Social Security:

Causes of Increased Overpayments, 1986 to 1989

HRD-92-107: Published: Sep 28, 1992. Publicly Released: Oct 29, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Social Security Administration's (SSA) management of debt collection efforts, focusing on: (1) the general causes of and reasons for increases in benefit overpayments; (2) the average amounts and overall range of overpayments and characteristics of individuals who receive overpayments; and (3) whether staff reductions contributed to the increase in overpayments.

GAO found that: (1) SSA accounting records indicate that overpayments increased by about $500 million from 1986 to 1989; (2) the dollar amount of overpayments detected was not a reliable indicator of overpayment increases, since detections depended on the number of overpayments, the SSA level of effort to detect overpayments, and the effectiveness of detection techniques; (3) a one-time adjustment SSA made to its overpayment accounting records, which had overstated the number of overpayments, explained most of the detected increase; (4) SSA improved its ability to detect overpayments by using tax information to identify recipients who underreported their income; (5) the 4.3-percent increase in the number of people receiving SSA benefits between 1986 and 1989 created more opportunities for overpayments; (6) SSA does not maintain the staffing and work-load data it needs to directly assess the correlation between overpayments and the 20-percent reduction in SSA staff between 1985 and 1990; and (7) comparison of overpayment data both before and after the SSA staff reduction did not produce any indication that staff reductions contributed to overpayments.

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