Social Security:

Sustained Effort Needed to Improve Management and Prepare for the Future

HRD-94-22: Published: Oct 27, 1993. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 1993.

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GAO provided information on the Social Security Administration's (SSA) current and future operations, focusing on SSA progress in improving its strategic planning, information resource, human resource, and financial management systems.

GAO found that: (1) SSA needs to improve its strategic planning process, establish accountability and evaluation systems, modernize its computer systems, resolve problems in its disability program, improve service delivery, and retain sufficient qualified personnel to help meet increased workloads; (2) SSA will need a sustained effort to manage its long-range planning process and achieve its service objectives; (3) although SSA has developed a long-range plan that defines its service objectives, it needs a comprehensive strategic management process that provides it with a systematic means of developing plans, links plans to the SSA budget, and establishes performance indicators to measure its progress; (4) SSA needs to survey its customers to identify their service delivery needs and correctly assign service responsibility; (5) SSA needs to improve its information systems management controls, complete its service delivery plan, and address its data administration problems so that it can justify the costs and benefits of acquiring new information systems and ensure that its automated systems support operations; (6) SSA needs a human resource plan to meet future workforce demands and coordinate its human resource initiatives to ensure that a pool of effective managers is available, and improve its employee training and employee-management communications; (7) although SSA has attempted to resolve its debt management and earnings record maintenance problems, its overall financial management problems continue; and (8) SSA needs to establish a single manager responsible for all debt management activities and a financial management backup and recovery system, and make its financial statements more useful.

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 Commissioner of Social Security should complete the Service Delivery Plan (SDP) as soon as possible and use it to develop or modify the resource plans for information systems and human resources and facilities, as well as the strategic priority tactical plans.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA no longer will develop a separate SDP. Instead, the new strategic plan will address many of the elements previously envisioned for inclusion in the SDP.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should design strategic initiatives to provide direct impact on service delivery objectives.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Planning and budgeting instructions will formalize SSA's intent to have all tactical plans related to strategic initiatives specify how each will directly and indirectly affect SSA's strategic priorities and service delivery objectives.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should set interim targets for all service delivery objectives impacted by strategic initiatives to monitor success in achieving them.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1997, SSA developed a revised Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan in accordance with GPRA. In reviewing the plans, GAO noted that the goals could be strengthened by clarifying what SSA hoped to achieve in the near and long term, and how it planned to measure achievement. GAO was also concerned that goals for the SSI program were insufficient to address significant program weaknesses. In response to GAO's findings, SSA issued a FY 2000 Performance Plan that now includes both intermediate and long-term performance goals, as well as more specific measures to gauge performance. SSA also issued a comprehensive SSI Management Report in FY 1998 that includes specific goals, objectives, and performance measures for addressing long-standing SSI program problems. In reviewing SSA's latest plans, GAO concluded that the specified goals and measures now sufficiently addressed both program management problems and the need to combat SSI fraud and abuse.

    Recommendation: To gain better managerial and technical control over SSA computer modernization efforts, the Commissioner of Social Security should, upon completion of its efforts to define future operational needs, revise the computer modernization strategy as needed to be consistent with SSA planned service delivery goals.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has agreed that automation modernization strategies need to meet current and future operational needs. In developing its Business Plan, SSA has defined its operational needs and developed a general strategy for meeting them. The agency has also revised its computer modernization strategy to support the Business Plan's goals. For example, SSA has refocused and reevaluated its automation priorities to support key agency initiatives, such as the redesigned disability claims process. By linking SSA's primary goals, business processes, and systems requirements, the agency may be better positioned to implement its disability redesign effort and other agency initiatives.

    Recommendation: To gain better managerial and technical control over SSA computer modernization efforts, the Commissioner of Social Security should acquire information systems based upon thorough analysis of mission needs, costs, and benefits.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has developed a formal accountability methodology for major systems initiatives to guide it in determining key decision points, costs, milestones and performance measures. The methodology is being used by SSA to ensure system initiatives support and core mission functions and to determine the viability, costs, benefits or risks of alternatives.

    Recommendation: To gain better managerial and technical control over SSA computer modernization efforts, the Commissioner of Social Security should take the actions needed to fully integrate SSA databases.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 1995, SSA developed an integrated client database (ICDB) and indicated that the next stage--ICDB release-was imminent, pending further integration of recipient data into the system. ICDB is intended to integrate client information that has historically been collected and maintained on each of the systems that support the various programs administered by SSA. The first and second phases of integration are complete and include Title II and Title XVI systems data (MCS and MSSICS), numident data, toll free number leads, and representative payee information. The third and final phase was implemented in June 1999 and adds additional data groups to the system, such as citizenship information, lawful presence, language, and address. SSA has closed out this recommendation as fully implemented.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should develop a long-term human resources plan that includes an assessment of current personnel resources and future workforce requirements and contains specific strategies for meeting SSA human resource needs.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has not developed a standalone Human Resource Plan outlining specific strategies for meeting its workforce needs. Instead, the agency has opted to weave human resource issues and perspectives throughout its planning process. GAO's review of key planning documents, such as SSA's Business Plan, confirmed that human resource issues are being discussed. However, SSA still lacks a comprehensive human resources plan necessary to provide specific direction on the number and type of personnel needed to service future workloads. SSA has indicated it plans no further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should make its succession planning efforts a permanent aspect of human resources planning.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has noted that succession planning is an important aspect of agency operations. In cooperation with the Executive Resources Board, the agency also considers projected vacancies, retirements, and future leadership needs in designing management development activities. However, SSA does not intend to develop a human resource plan with specific goals and targets for management development and succession. Without a plan to guide long-term succession planning efforts and integrate SSA's various HR initiatives, SSA lacks a mechanism to ensure management development programs receive consistent resources and attention. SSA has indicated it plans no further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should determine whether the current funding amount available for training is sufficient to prepare and maintain a high-quality workforce.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Based on its present work processes, SSA has determined that 1996 training funds are sufficient to prepare and maintain a quality workforce. However, the agency anticipates additional funding needs in the future to meet the training demands associated with the IWS LAN and disability reengineering. SSA intends to continually evaluate the sufficiency of training resources as its Business Plan is carried out.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should correct the financial management problems in the areas of debt management, including establishing a single manager responsible for all debt management activities, and earnings record maintenance.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA does not believe that a single manager responsible for debt management is needed to collect the $4 billion in overpayments that are made annually.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should include in the financial statements a discussion of the relationship between the federal budget deficit and the Social Security trust fund reserves.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA does not believe that its financial statements are the place to discuss the impact of the budget deficit or the government's ability to honor its commitment to meet future social security payments.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should complete the implementation of a strategic management process to guide planning, implementation, and evaluation of long-term strategic initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with the recommendation and the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), SSA issued a revised strategic plan in September 1997. This plan charts SSA's mission and long-range goals over the next 5 years. In February 1998, SSA also issued a Performance Plan, which describes in greater detail the results it hopes to achieve during fiscal year 1999, given a proposed level of resources. Although in reviewing SSA's plans GAO identified some deficiencies, GAO believes that SSA has a strategic management process in place to guide planning, implementation, and evaluation of long-term strategic initiatives. GAO also believes that future plans will build on this initial effort and will be even more useful in the transformation of agency resources into concrete, measurable results.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should report the lack of a backup system as a material weakness in future Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act reports.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA has set up a disaster recovery system for the agency as recommended. Therefore, there is no longer any need to report this as a Federal Managers' Financial Integrity Act weakness.

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