Social Security Disability:

SSA Has Had Mixed Success in Efforts to Improve Caseload Management

T-HEHS-00-22: Published: Oct 21, 1999. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) management of its disability caseload, focusing on: (1) the status of SSA's efforts to improve its claims process; (2) lessons learned from the agency's efforts to date that can be applied to its current and future claims processing improvement plans; and (3) SSA's efforts to review the continuing eligibility of its beneficiaries.

GAO noted that: (1) SSA is only just beginning to make headway on improving its claims process but it has been far more successful in catching up on overdue eligibility review of beneficiaries; (2) it is vital that SSA tackle its claims process problems now, before the agency is hit with a surge in workload as the baby boomers reach their disability-prone years; (3) the agency's first ambitious plan to redesign its disability claims process in 1994 yielded little; (4) when the agency scaled back its plan in 1997, progress was slow, in part because even the scaled-back plan proved to be too large to be kept on track; (5) in addition, SSA's proposed changes initially showed disappointing and inconclusive results; (6) GAO made a number of recommendations designed to improve SSA's prospects for success as it continues its efforts to improve the claims process, and in March 1999, SSA issued a new disability plan that is consistent with some of GAO's recommendations; (7) however, much remains to be done; (8) moreover, the plan also includes a bold new initiative to revise operations at SSA's hearings offices; (9) for SSA to avoid repeating some of the mistakes of the past, this hearings office initiative, as well as the entire set of steps outlined to improve the disability claims process, will require concerted management oversight and diligence; (10) SSA's experience with catching up on its overdue disability reviews, on the other hand, has been more successful; (11) the agency has exceeded its goals for the last 3 years and appears on track to complete the goals it laid out in a 7-year plan; (12) however, the state agencies conducting these reviews must balance this large workload with their other work, such as determining eligibility for incoming claims; and (13) unanticipated increases in any of the workloads could strain the agencies' ability to keep up their current pace.

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