Social Security Downsizing:

Significant Savings but Some Service Quality and Operational Problems

HRD-91-63: Published: Mar 19, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 18, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Administration's (SSA): (1) efforts in reducing its staff by 21 percent between fiscal years 1985 and 1990; and (2) ability to maintain adequate service quality throughout the downsizing period.

GAO found that: (1) SSA timely completed its staff reduction and achieved $1.9 billion in cost savings for the 6-year period, with expected annual savings of $600 million; (2) SSA achieved staff reductions while maintaining overall service at or near its previous levels by implementing various procedural changes such as increasing appointment usage, encouraging claims via telephone, and upgrading file office computer capability; (3) overall, SSA payment accuracy remained stable and its clients' service satisfaction remained high; (4) during the downsizing period, SSA experienced decreased employee morale, problems with its new 800 telephone number system, and an increased amount of processing times and pending work loads; (5) SSA achieved the downsizing through employee attrition, but the resulting staffing imbalances caused some service delivery deterioration; (6) SSA lacked work-load time standards upon which to base its total staffing needs, hampering it from determining whether it needed additional staff resources or whether it could redistribute its current staff; and (7) SSA inadequate work-force planning detracted from the credibility of its request for increased staffing in its 1992 budget request.

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