Social Security:

Issues Relating to Agency Field Offices

HRD-86-71BR: Published: Mar 31, 1986. Publicly Released: Apr 16, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reported on: (1) the evolution of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) field office structure; (2) the existing structure, including accessibility to clients and the distribution of offices among the states; (3) the effect of prior office closings and downgradings on SSA administrative costs and service to the public; and (4) the results of an ongoing SSA review of its field offices.

GAO found that SSA began operations in 1936 by opening 397 planned field offices. Since 1975, the number of field offices has remained relatively constant at around 1,300. GAO also found that, through February 1986, no offices were closed as a result of the 228 completed office reviews. According to SSA regional officials and the Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget, on the basis of past experience, it is unlikely that many offices will be closed when the reviews of all offices are completed by December 1987. Such factors as the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act could, however, change the situation. There are 1,386 permanent field offices and more than 2,500 contact stations which provide opportunities for personal service in the more remote areas of the country. The number of offices in each state generally correlates with state populations. SSA data on prior office closings and downgradings did not show significant reductions in SSA overall administrative costs. Regarding service to the public, past office closings have somewhat reduced SSA accessibility to some of its clients. Conversely, office closings which result in a consolidation of SSA staff can sometimes increase efficiency and effectiveness and, in general, improve overall service to the public.

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