Social Security:

Improved Telephone Accessibility Would Better Serve the Public

HRD-86-85: Published: Aug 29, 1986. Publicly Released: Aug 29, 1986.

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GAO reported the results of a nationwide test of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) telephone accessibility to the public and provided information on SSA standards and telephone reporting activities.

GAO noted that SSA: (1) maintains 34 teleservice centers to answer telephone calls in major metropolitan areas or entire states; (2) maintains 20 miniteleservice centers, 12 statewide centers, and 627 local or district offices to provide telephone service to less populous areas; and (3) utilizes service standards for its teleservice centers that require that calls not be left on hold for more than 2 minutes and that busy-signal rates do not exceed 15 percent. GAO found that: (1) SSA answered three of every four calls from the public directly or within 2 minutes of putting a call on hold; (2) telephone access to SSA varied considerably among telephone answering facilities; (3) some SSA facilities provided unacceptable service by SSA standards; (4) SSA facilities reported misleading and limited data on their telephone service to the public; and (5) SSA service standards apply only to the teleservice centers.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to take steps to bring into compliance those facilities not meeting service-level standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA increased staffing levels for all TSC.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to clarify the average wait-time standard to require that only calls on hold be used in computing the average.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The new SSA nationwide 800 systems will compute average wait time on the basis of calls actually placed on hold.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to develop busy-signal and average-wait-time standards for telephone calls to miniteleservice centers, statewide units, and local offices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The new 800 system has a single standard for SSA phone services.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to periodically measure and evaluate service provided by SSA telephone answering facilities against established standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The new 800 system will automatically produce performance data.

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