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    Subject Term: "Disability benefits"

    15 publications with a total of 65 open recommendations including 8 priority recommendations
    Director: Kathryn A. Larin
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    8 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should develop a formal and systematic approach to gathering information to identify potential conditions for the CAL list, including by sharing information through SSA's website on how to propose conditions for the list and by utilizing research that is directly applicable to identifying CAL conditions.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen its Compassionate Allowance initiative (CAL).
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should develop formal procedures for consistently notifying those who propose conditions for the CAL list of the status of their proposals.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen CAL.
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should develop and communicate internally and externally criteria for selecting conditions for the CAL list.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen CAL.
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should take steps to obtain information that can help refine the selection software for CAL claims, for example by using management data, research, or DDS office feedback.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen CAL.
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should clarify written policies and procedures regarding when manual addition and removal of CAL flags should occur on individual claims.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen CAL.
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should assess the reasons why the uses of manual actions vary across DDS offices to ensure that they are being used appropriately.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen CAL.
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should develop a schedule and a plan for updates to the CAL impairment summaries to ensure that information is medically up to date.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen CAL.
    Recommendation: To ensure expedited processing of disability claims through CAL is consistent and accurate, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security should develop a plan to regularly review and use available data to assess the accuracy and consistency of CAL decision-making.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is committed to looking for opportunities to strengthen CAL.
    Director: Barbara Bovbjerg
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to develop a long-term facility plan that explicitly links to SSA's strategic goals for service delivery, and includes a strategy for consolidating or downsizing field offices in light of increasing use of and geographic variation in remote service delivery.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint, such as co-locating field and hearing offices and reducing warehouse space. SSA will also work within the existing Memorandum of Understanding to conduct a proof of concept on space sharing by employees who telework.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to reassess and, if needed, revise its field office space standards to ensure they provide sufficient flexibility to accommodate both unexpected growth in the demand for services and new service delivery technologies.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to ensure the Real Estate and Lease Tracking application has the capacity to accurately track the composition of SSA's office inventory over time.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency to develop a cost-effective approach to identifying the most common issues with online benefit claims that require staff follow-up with applicants, and use this information to inform improvements to the online claims process.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the agency for its alternative customer services approaches, including desktop icons and video services in third-party sites, to develop performance goals and collect performance data related to these goals.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendations and noted steps it plans to take to enable further reduction in its footprint, such as expanding video hearing capacity.
    Director: Seto Bagdoyan
    Phone: (202) 512-6722

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to lead a comprehensive fraud risk assessment that is consistent with leading practices, and develop a plan for regularly updating the assessment.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to develop, document, and implement an antifraud strategy that is aligned to its assessed fraud risks.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to work with components responsible for implementing antifraud initiatives to develop outcome-oriented metrics, including baselines and goals, where appropriate for antifraud activities.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Commissioner (or Acting Commissioner) of SSA should direct the OAFP to review progress toward meeting goals on a regular basis, and recommend that the NAFC make changes to control activities or take other corrective actions on any initiatives that are not meeting goals.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    5 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To further align efforts to address appeals workload and improve timeliness of decisions, and reduce the risk that efforts will not go as planned, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits; the Chairman, Board of Veterans' Appeals; and the Chief Information Officer, as appropriate, to ensure development of a timely, detailed workforce plan for recruiting, hiring and training new hires. In particular, this plan should: (1) include detailed steps and timetables for updating training curriculum (such as preparing decisions in a virtual environment) and ensuring office space (such as telework guidance); and (2) incorporate risk mitigation strategies that consider how the timing of recruitment and training dovetails with uncertain time frames for implementing a new appeals process.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA took additional steps to recruit, hire, manage space and train additional FTEs to address appeals workloads. However, detailed workforce plans would help ensure timely hiring and proper supports and training. We will close this recommendation when VA provides documentation of its actions and related guidance in several areas: agency telework plan; case adjudication in an virtual environment; status of hiring for FY17; hiring goals for FY18; space management plan indicating how FY17 and FY18 hiring will be accommodated; and plans for ongoing training for remote teleworkers.
    Recommendation: To further align efforts to address appeals workload and improve timeliness of decisions, and reduce the risk that efforts will not go as planned, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits; the Chairman, Board of Veterans' Appeals; and the Chief Information Officer, as appropriate, to develop a schedule for IT updates that explicitly addresses when and how any process reform will be integrated into new systems and when Caseflow will be ready to support a potential streamlined appeals process at its onset.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA concurred in principle with this recommendation. In July 2017, VA reported its latest actions to address this recommendation, including documentation of the 6-month road map. However, we continue to believe that while the agile process can help mitigate risks and avoid cost overruns and delays, VA should define schedules beyond 6 months. Such planning allows VA to take additional steps to consider the scope of potential changes required by a new appeals process and have a broad plan in place to ensure that all aspects of the new process are adequately supported by Caseflow.
    Recommendation: To further align efforts to address appeals workload and improve timeliness of decisions, and reduce the risk that efforts will not go as planned, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits; the Chairman, Board of Veterans' Appeals; and the Chief Information Officer, as appropriate, to conduct additional sensitivity analyses based on the assumptions used in projection models to more accurately estimate future appeals inventories and timeliness. In doing so, consider running additional analyses on how these factors, in conjunction with one another, may affect the timeliness and cost of deciding pending appeals.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA concurred in principle with this recommendation, noting that it plans to refine the model on a regular basis. However, we continue to believe that additional analyses of potential hiring options and of the compounded effect of assumptions that VA identified is consistent with sound practices and will help the agency anticipate and plan for different contingencies. In addition, as VA goes forward with appeals process reform and begins to collect real-time data, these data could improve modeling accuracy and serve as a valuable management tool. VA also noted plans to analyze, update and refine the model. We will consider closing this recommendation when VA completes these efforts and provides documentation of plans for modeling inventories and resource needs.
    Recommendation: To further align efforts to address appeals workload and improve timeliness of decisions, and reduce the risk that efforts will not go as planned, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits; the Chairman, Board of Veterans' Appeals; and the Chief Information Officer, as appropriate, to develop a more robust plan for closely monitoring implementation of process reform that includes metrics and interim goals to help track progress, evaluate efficiency and effectiveness, and identify trouble spots.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: VA agreed in principle with this recommendation. However, to fully implement it, VA needs to develop a monitoring plan with metrics and interim goals for implementing appeal process reform. Although VA agreed that developing such a plan is valuable for monitoring the implementation of process reform, VA also stated that it considered this recommendation complete and noted that preparing such a detailed plan depends on appeals reform legislation being enacted. While we recognize that VA cannot assume to know the exact provisions that may be included in future enacted legislation, we consider having a more robust monitoring plan - for example, that includes metrics and interim goals to help track implementation progress, evaluate efficiency and effectiveness of the reformed process, and identify trouble spots - to be essential to the successful implementation of a new appeals process.
    Recommendation: To better understand whether appeals process reform, in conjunction with other efforts, has improved timeliness, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits; the Chairman, Board of Veterans' Appeals; and the Chief Information Officer, as appropriate to develop a strategy for assessing process reform--relative to the current process--that ensures transparency in reporting to Congress and the public on the extent to which VA is improving veterans' experiences with its disability appeals process.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA concurred in principle with this recommendation and reported on its plans to measure veteran wait times as well as use customer satisfaction surveys to measure the success of the new appeals process. However, while we agree that metrics based on the different options could be valuable for VA, the Congress, and the public, we disagree that VA's focus on measuring timeliness by option is in the best interest of the veteran. Because veterans may pursue more than one option under VBA, the Board or both, we believe that VA's approach does not take into account the veteran's perspective of how long it took for them to receive a final appeal decision. Metrics from the veterans' overall perspective would complement, not replace, metrics for VBA, the Board, and each option. The absence of such metrics raises questions as to how the agency will ensure appropriate resources are devoted to managing appeals under the new versus old process, or intended results are achieved as the new process is implemented. Further, while the legislation requires VA to report a number of metrics, the agency still needs to implement the legislation. We will consider closing this recommendation when VA develops a plan for collecting metrics consistent with this recommendation.
    Director: Allison Bawden
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To preserve the balance between the importance of repaying federal student loan debt and protecting a minimum level of Social Security benefits put in place by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, Congress should consider modifying Social Security administrative offset provisions, such as by authorizing the Department of the Treasury to annually index the amount of Social Security benefits exempted from administrative offset to reflect changes in the cost of living over time.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2017, Congress has not yet taken action on this matter.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform affected borrowers of the suspension of offset and potential consequences if the borrower does not take action to apply for a TPD discharge. Such information could include notification that interest continues to accrue and that offsets may resume once their disability benefits are converted to retirement benefits.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education does not currently notify borrowers of the suspension of offset, but plans to implement a process to do so in the future using a new mailing sent to affected borrowers by their default servicer. The current budget situation does not allow for this type of enhancement, and it is not clear when that will change. In the interim, the agency is exploring alternative notification approaches that could be put in place prior to the implementation of an automated solution. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should revise forms sent to borrowers already approved for a TPD discharge to clearly and prominently state that failure to provide annual income verification documentation during the 3-year monitoring period will result in loan reinstatement.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) TPD-Post discharge forms contain the recommended language in the first bullet of the Earned Income Section. In order to more clearly provide this information they recommended that the new OMB form, which is in its public comment period, (1) use a larger font size for the form and (2) use "plain language." GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should evaluate the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process, including determining whether the agency has the necessary legal authority to implement such a process.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that over the next six months, they are committed to working with SSA to determine the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process. The verification will address both the legal authority to implement such a process as well as operational and budgetary feasibility. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform borrowers about the financial hardship exemption option and application process on the agency's website, as well as the notice of offset sent to borrowers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agrees with the recommendation and said that they will include this change in upcoming revisions to the agency's web content. The agency reported that the Notice of Offset to borrowers is sent by Treasury and that they will share this recommendation with Treasury and discuss possible changes to the notice. We will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should implement an annual review process to ensure that only eligible borrowers are exempted from offset for financial hardship on an ongoing basis.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education reported that it plans plan to fully automate their process for tracking hardships and other exceptions from offset. However, due to competing priorities and funding limitations, full implementation of these improvements have not been scheduled. As they fully implement this process, they will review complementary strategies to assist borrowers in complying with annual reporting requirements. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Director: Brenda S. Farrell
    Phone: (202) 512-3604

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help support DOD management of its FECA responsibilities, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military departments and other defense agency leaders, to monitor timelines associated with significant FECA claims-management actions in order to identify the extent to which delays or inefficiencies may be occurring and at what points in the process; to identify any known reasons for the delays; and to communicate this information to DOL as appropriate for consideration and action.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: bertonid@gao.gov
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    8 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should clarify its policy for assessing the reasonableness of expenses used in determining beneficiaries' repayment amounts to help ensure that withholding plans are consistently established across the agency and accurately reflect individuals' ability to pay.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As a result of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, SSA gained the ability to use the Access to Financial Information (AFI) system to verify information about the assets of beneficiaries. In February 2017, the agency reported it is continuing to work on clarifying its policy for assessing the reasonableness of expenses used in determining repayment amounts, including guidance on using the new AFI process. As part of this effort, SSA is also reviewing the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Collection Financial Standards and determining whether it can incorporate these or similar standards in its policies for determining reasonable repayment amounts. We will continue to track SSA's efforts to clarify its policies, including efforts to incorporate IRS standards.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should improve oversight of DI benefit withholding agreements to ensure that they are completed appropriately. This could include requiring supervisory review of repayment plans or sampling plans as part of a quality control process, and requiring that supporting documentation for all withholding plans be retained to enable the agency to perform such oversight.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation, but does not believe that it is necessary to conduct supervisory reviews. As of February 2017, SSA reported that it is exploring system, policy, and training opportunities to better ensure staff appropriately complete benefit withholding agreements. We will continue to track SSA's efforts to improve oversight in this area.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should explore the feasibility of using additional methods to independently verify financial information provided by beneficiaries to ensure that complete and reliable information is used when determining repayment amounts. These additional tools could include those already being used by the agency for other purposes.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to SSA, Section 834 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 gave the agency the authority to use the Access to Financial Information system as part of the agency's waiver determination process. SSA reported that, as of February 2017, it also considered using the National Directory of New Hires Query for verifying an overpaid beneficiary's financial information, but preliminarily determined that the information in this system would be of limited value since it is a quarterly report of past earnings. SSA states that it continues to explore other options to verify financial information such as The Work Number and the Interstate Benefit Inquiry. We will monitor SSA's efforts to explore additional options for verifying financial information.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should adjust the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent of monthly DI benefits to allow quicker recovery of debt.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and as of April 2017, it estimated that this would result in an additional $213 million in collections over a 5-year period. The fiscal year 2017 President's budget submission contained a legislative proposal to make this change, but has not yet been enacted. In April 2017, the agency reported that, in the third quarter of fiscal year 2017, it intends to resubmit a regulatory change to establish the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent in the event that its legislative proposal is not included in the fiscal year 2017 budget.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should consider adjusting monthly withholding amounts according to cost of living adjustments or charging interest on debts being collected by withholding benefits. Should SSA determine that it is necessary to do so, it could pursue legislative authority to use recovery tools that it is currently unable to use.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA continued to disagree with this recommendation. For debt subject to benefit withholding, which is not considered delinquent debt, SSA asserted that these measures would not have a significant effect on the amount of debt recovered, especially compared to the option of changing the minimum withholding rate to 10 percent of monthly benefits. For delinquent debt, SSA stated charging interest on debts would require substantial changes to multiple systems that affect its overpayment businesses processes, and would require extensive training to its employees. We continue to believe there is merit in further consideration of these measures. While SSA reported it has studied the potential changes needed to charge interest on debt, without further consideration of, for example, the costs and benefits of charging interest or adjusting withholding amounts according to cost of living adjustments, SSA cannot know the extent to which these options would improve debt recovery efforts or help protect the value of debts against the effects of inflation, which can be substantial given that withholding plans can take decades to complete.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should pursue additional debt collection tools for collecting delinquent penalties. This includes taking steps to implement tools within its existing authority and exploring the use of those not within its authority, and seeking legislative authority if necessary.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2016, SSA reported that: it had drafted regulations to use existing external debt collection tools for penalties, was developing a legislative proposal to allow the use of additional debt collection tools such as Federal salary offset and credit bureau reporting, and had started planning for a multi-activity, multi-year administrative sanctions project. In February 2017, SSA reported that, as part of its administrative sanctions project, the agency revised policy guidance on factors significant to OCIG's civil monetary penalty determinations. We will track SSA's progress in applying new tools to collecting penalties.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to collect complete, accurate, and timely data on, and thereby improve its ability to track civil monetary penalties and their disposition.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA reported that it is developing a workload tracking tool for penalties to provide accurate management information on cases. SSA expects to implement this tool by September 2017, and have the first full year of management information available in fiscal year 2018. We will close this recommendation once SSA implements and begins using this tool.
    Recommendation: To ensure effective and appropriate recovery of DI overpayments and administration of penalties and sanctions, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to collect complete, accurate, and timely data on, and thereby improve its ability to track administrative sanctions and their disposition.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA reported that it has been developing a new workload tracking tool for administrative sanctions. The first phase of this tool was implemented in December 2016 and allows SSA to track administrative sanction cases throughout the development process. The second phase, expected to be implemented by September 2017, will provide SSA with management information on sanctions cases. We will continue to monitor SSA's process in developing this tool. We will close this recommendation once the tool is implemented.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Operations to further consider cost savings as part of its prioritization of full medical reviews. Such options could include considering the feasibility of prioritizing different types of beneficiaries on the basis of their estimated average savings and, as appropriate, integrating case-specific indicators of potential cost savings, such as beneficiary age and benefit amount, into its modeling or prioritization process.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, SSA stated that there is no accepted way to accurately predict future benefit payments at the individual level and that any improvement from implementing this recommendation would be minimal - and would be reduced over time as the continuing disability review (CDR) backlog diminishes - because SSA already considers expected return on investment by cohort in its overall approach to releasing CDRs. It is unclear whether SSA will be able to achieve and sustain currency in its CDR workloads. Even if SSA were to eliminate the backlog of full medical reviews, refining its prioritization process would enable the agency to more efficiently use its resources with any future backlogs. SSA could use actuarial considerations to prioritize refined cohorts of beneficiaries (e.g., types of DI beneficiaries) on the basis of their estimated average savings. SSA Operations could collaborate with SSA's Office of the Actuary on this work as needed. SSA previously agreed that it could look for ways to improve its return on conducting CDRs, but also stated that its statistical models and prioritization process already do much of what we recommend. For example, SSA stated that age is already a strong variable in its statistical models. However, these models predict medical improvement and are not designed to take expected cost savings into account. We continue to believe that to maximize expected cost savings SSA could refine its prioritization process by factoring in additional actuarial considerations.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to complete a re-estimation of the statistical models that are used to prioritize CDRs and determine a plan for re-estimating these models on a regular basis to ensure that they reflect current conditions.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2016, SSA re-estimated the statistical models that it uses to prioritize CDRs. However, as of October 2017, SSA has not yet produced a plan for re-estimating the models on a regular basis to ensure that they continually reflect current conditions.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to monitor the characteristics of CDR errors to identify potential root causes and report results to the Disability Determination Services. For example, SSA could analyze CDRs with and without errors to identify trends by impairment, beneficiary type, or other characteristics.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it reports all errors to the relevant DDS for corrective action. SSA further stated that its identification of root causes is limited by the relatively few reviewed CDRs that have errors. However, in fiscal year 2014 as an example, SSA identified over 600 CDRs with errors. Although these CDRs make up a small percentage of the CDRs reviewed by SSA that year, the agency could analyze the characteristics of CDRs with errors by comparing relevant percentages without modeling. In addition, SSA could combine data from multiple years if it determined that considering more CDRs with errors would be helpful. There is no change in the status of this recommendation for 2017.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to regularly track the number and rate of date errors, which can affect benefit payments (e.g., incorrect cessation dates), and consider including those errors in its reported CDR accuracy rates.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation and stated that, per SSA regulation, the agency does not consider date errors when calculating accuracy rates because date errors do not affect the decision to cease or continue benefits. SSA also stated its stewardship reviews examine the non-medical quality of benefit payment decisions. However, these reviews are not focused on CDRs, and SSA does not report results from them for CDRs specifically. SSA also explained that it does not track the number and rate of date errors because they are infrequent. However, SSA's regulations do not prevent the agency from tracking date errors, and until it does, SSA cannot definitively determine the frequency of these errors. In addition, we found that considering date errors substantially reduced some states' estimated CDR accuracy rates. Without tracking these errors, SSA cannot assess their effect and consider whether including them in its reported CDR accuracy rates has merit. There is no change in the status of this recommendation for 2017.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management to adjust its approach to sampling CDRs to efficiently produce reliable accuracy rate estimates for continuances and cessations separately in each state.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation and stated that some states do not generate enough CDR decisions, particularly cessations, to generate statistically valid samples. However, for states with CDR samples that are consistently too small to produce reliable results, SSA could, for example, pool decisions from more months than it currently does to generate statistically valid samples by state. Conversely, for states with CDR samples that are consistently larger than necessary to efficiently achieve reliable results, SSA could, for example, reduce sample sizes. Because CDR accuracy rates vary by state and cessations are consistently less accurate than continuances, we maintain that SSA should adjust its approach to sampling CDRs. There is no change in the status of this recommendation for 2017.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Chief Actuary to better document the methods including data sources, assumptions, and limitations that factor into its estimates of CDR cost savings.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and stated that it will improve and expand its existing documentation as time and resources permit. As of July 2017, SSA had begun to improve documentation of its OASDI estimates and plans further enhancements including documenting the methods of its SSI estimates.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    7 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve transparency in reporting processing errors, SSA should provide additional information on the margins of error or confidence intervals, and clearly identify any limitations in its findings on overpayment information provided to Congress and the public.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and reported in January 2016 that it would include a discussion about the limitations of error deficiencies data in future reports. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to report any limitations, such as small sample sizes, that would affect the reliability of its estimates of DI improper payments due to specific types and causes of errors. Although SSA provided recommendation updates on this report in April 2017, it did not comment on this particular recommendation.
    Recommendation: To minimize the potential effect of vulnerabilities in the work reporting process, SSA should take steps to help ensure that work information is entered directly into eWork, the system of record for work information, and issue required receipts. Such steps could include: (a) Improving and issuing guidance and training to field and 800- number staff to help ensure they log information into eWork and issue required receipts. (b) Establishing policies to monitor alerts to help ensure that work information for concurrent beneficiaries is reflected in SSI and DI systems, and take steps to monitor and make enhancements to systems or guidance, as needed.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In April 2017, SSA reported that it updated training to Field and Processing Center staff and issued an administrative message to staff to remind them about issues related to overpayments and waivers. SSA also reported that, as part of its implementation of Section 826 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (P.L.114-74), it is creating a business process and building an internet work reporting system that will allow both SSDI beneficiaries and SSI recipients to report work and earnings electronically. According to SSA, this system will determine the individual's entitlement and automatically forward the work report to the appropriate staff for processing CDR decisions. To close this recommendation, SSA will need to provide documentation that shows the agency provided training and reminders to staff, and that the agency implemented a mechanism that ensures work information for concurrent beneficiaries is reflected in both SSI and DI systems.
    Recommendation: To further ensure the effective screening of work reports, SSA should monitor its process for handling work reports to determine whether staff are taking action on work reports in accordance with proper procedures, and provide feedback to staff as needed.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In its April 2017 update, SSA continued to disagree with this recommendation. SSA stated that the outcome of a work continuing disability review (CDR) is not dependent on the accuracy of the work report. However, as we noted in our report, inaccurate work reports may result in overpayments or work receipts (which are required by law) to not be issued. Further, pending work reports may be closed inappropriately without resulting in a work CDR. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to show how it plans to monitor its process for handling work reports to determine compliance with agency procedures, and how feedback, if any, will be provided to staff.
    Recommendation: To enhance the ease and integrity of the work reporting process, SSA should study the costs and benefits of automated reporting options, including options similar to those currently available for SSI recipients, but that do not go as far as automating the continuing disability review process.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In April 2017, SSA reported that the agency has made progress on two fronts, which could enhance the ease and integrity of its work reporting process, both pursuant to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA). In response to Section 826 of BBA, which requires SSA to permit Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries to report their earnings via electronic means similar to what is available for SSI recipients, SSA reported that it has drafted a business process to build an Internet and wage reporting system for SSDI beneficiaries. SSA also noted that this business process contains plans for an Internet work reporting system that will allow both SSDI and SSI recipients to report work and earnings electronically and will automatically forward the work report to either SSI or eWork (for DI beneficiaries), and will automatically generate a receipt to the beneficiary. SSA has also completed a business process for Section 824 of the BBA, which allows SSA to contract with third party payroll providers to receive earnings in a monthly file. SSA reported that these data will allow SSI to automate benefit adjustments based on the monthly earnings report, and for DI, the information will be incorporated into the agency's Work Smart process--a new technique that combines several business processes into one unified approach to identify cases in need of a work continuing disability review. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to provide documentation of its proposed business process for building Internet and telephone wage reporting systems for DI beneficiaries.
    Recommendation: To enhance beneficiary understanding of work reporting requirements, SSA should: (a) Clarify work reporting requirements provided to beneficiaries. (b) Explore options for increasing the frequency of reporting reminders to DI beneficiaries, similar to those currently available to SSI recipients.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation and noted in January 2016 that it plans to assess its method of communication and explore options to strengthen its message to Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries regarding the importance of consistent wage reporting. The agency also plans to consider whether direct phone outreach, currently being piloted to improve wage reporting for SSI recipients, would be appropriate for the DI program. In its April 2017 update, SSA indicated progress toward: updating policies and procedures related to "treatment of earnings derived from services," implementing a commercial payroll data exchange pursuant to section 824 of the BBA, and implementing electronic reporting of earnings pursuant to section 826 of the BBA. While the agency's actions to implement BBA requirements may improve program administration, SSA did not explain how these actions or its efforts to update to policies and procedures related to "treatment of earnings derived from services" would clarify work reporting requirements for or increase the frequency of reporting reminders to DI beneficiaries. SSA also did not provide an update on its plans to assess communication and explore options, as it reported in January 2016. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to show how these or other actions taken clarify work reporting requirements for and increase reporting reminders for DI beneficiaries.
    Recommendation: improve compliance with waiver policies, SSA should develop a timetable for implementing updates to its Debt Management System to: (a) Align system controls with SSA policy, so that waivers over $1,000 cannot be administratively waived. (b) Ensure that evidence supporting waiver decisions is sufficiently maintained to allow for subsequent monitoring and oversight.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: According to SSA, in February 2016, the agency implemented an edit to the Debt Management System remarks that amended a deficiency in the system that prevented system remarks from being deleted after a case is closed. The edit locks Debt Management System remarks to prevent technicians from overwriting existing remarks in closed cases. With respect to ensuring that overpayments over $1,000 cannot be administratively waived, SSA reported in November 2016 that it will provide a timeline for and take steps to update the Debt Management System when the agency obtains resources to fund the update. SSA reported in April 2017 that its ability to update system controls to align with SSA policy was dependent on resources. To help close this recommendation, SSA will need to show its plans and time frames for updating system controls to align them with SSA policy.
    Recommendation: To improve compliance with waiver policies, SSA should take steps to regularly assess the accuracy of DI waiver decisions, particularly for administrative waivers and for some waivers under $2,000. This could include periodically reviewing approved and denied DI waivers through its continuous quality initiative.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2016, the agency reported that it had taken several actions, including producing a comprehensive training series on overpayment and waiver policy and procedures, building a policy cluster to serve as a "one-stop resource shop" of policy references and tools for technicians, and clarifying agency policies including the Administrative Tolerance Decision Tree to assist technicians with making appropriate low-dollar overpayment waiver decisions. The agency also reported that its Continuous Quality work group continues to review the accuracy of waivers under Title II of the Social Security Act. Based on these efforts, in November 2016, SSA reported that it has closed this recommendation. However, as of April 2017, SSA did not specifically report that its review of Title II waivers will target DI waivers, including administrative waivers and waivers less than $2,000, or that such review will be an ongoing effort. To close this recommendation, SSA will need to show its plans for periodically assessing the accuracy of DI waiver decisions--particularly for administrative waivers and waivers under $2,000--through its continuous quality initiative or other means.
    Director: Valerie C. Melvin
    Phone: (202) 512-6304

    5 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to develop an updated plan for VBMS that includes (1) a schedule for when VBA intends to complete development and implementation of the system, including capabilities that fully support disability claims, pension claims, and appeals processing and (2) the estimated cost to complete development and implementation of the system.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with our recommendation calling for an updated plan for the Veterans Benefits Management System. However, as of June 2017, the department had not developed a plan that included a schedule for when the Veterans Benefits Administration intends to complete development and implementation of the system, as well as the estimated cost of doing so. We will continue to monitor VA's actions in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to establish goals for system response time and use the goals as a basis for periodically reporting actual system performance.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and reported that the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) program office has developed draft metrics for performance of the system. Specifically, VA stated that the office has established key performance indicators as a basis for monitoring the response times of the most commonly executed user transactions (or work events) within VBMS. According to the department, these indicators have been incorporated into the application's continuous monitoring tools for all service level agreements and these agreements are enforced by the VA Service Level Management Board. Nevertheless, as of June 2017, VA had not identified its goals for VBMS response times, nor had the department reported actual system response times. We will continue to monitor VA's actions toward addressing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to reduce the incidence of high- and medium-priority level defects that are present at the time of future VBMS releases.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and, in June 2017, reiterated its plans and procedures for decreasing the incidences of defects in each system release. However, the incidences of high- and medium-priority level defects at the time of recent VBMS releases (i.e., releases 10.1 and 11.0) had increased relative to the number of defects present at the time of the earlier release (i.e., release 8.1) that we described in our report. We will continue to monitor VA's actions and progress in response to this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to develop and administer a statistically valid survey of VBMS users to determine the effectiveness of steps taken to make improvements in users' satisfaction.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and in January 2017, conducted a survey of VBMS users that was sent to over 16,000 claims processors at each of its 56 regional offices. Although 52 percent of respondents indicated that they were very satisfied or satisfied with VBMS, the department received only about 2500 responses to the survey for a 15 percent response rate. This low response rate raises concern about whether the survey results are statistically valid. We have requested additional information from VA to determine any actions the department has taken to ensure the statistical validity of its survey results and will assess any information that is provided.
    Recommendation: To improve VA's efforts to effectively complete the development and implementation of VBMS, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Under Secretary for Benefits and the Chief Information Officer to establish goals that define customer satisfaction with VBMS and report on actual performance toward achieving the goals based on the results of GAO's survey of VBMS users and any future surveys VA conducts.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concurred with this recommendation and conducted a survey of VBMS users in January 2017. However, as of June 2017, the department had yet to develop customer satisfaction goals for VBMS that would provide users with an expectation of the system response times they should anticipate, and management with an indication of how well the system is performing relative to performance goals.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As part of initiatives currently under way to improve agency information on claims with appointed representatives and detect potential fraud associated with representatives, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should consider actions to provide more timely access to data on representatives and enhance mechanisms for identifying and monitoring trends and patterns related to representation, particularly trends that may present risks to program integrity. Specifically, SSA could (1) Identify additional data elements, or amendments to current data collection efforts, to improve information on all appointed representatives, including those under contract with states and other third parties; (2) Implement necessary policy changes to ensure these data are collected. This could include enhancing technical systems needed to finalize SSA's 2008 proposed rules that would recognize organizations as representatives; and (3) Establish mechanisms for routine data extracts and reports on claims with representatives.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, SSA reported that it is approaching the conclusion of the first phase of a new initiative, called Registration, Appointment and Services for Representatives (RASR). This initiative aims to register all appointed representatives and improve relevant business processes and data collection. SSA reported that it had to postpone the first release of RASR, originally targeted for December 2016, due to some systems issues. SSA stated that it has not yet set a new target date for the first release. SSA stated that this new application will enhance data collection and management of representatives' information and that it will help make strides toward better oversight and improved data analysis and reporting. We will consider closing this recommendation when these efforts are completed.
    Recommendation: To address risks associated with potential overpayments to representatives and protect claimant benefits, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take steps to enhance coordination with states, counties, and other third parties with the goal of improving oversight and preventing and identifying potential overpayments. This coordination could be conducted in a cost-effective manner, such as issuing guidance to states and other third parties on vulnerabilities for overpayment; sharing best practices on how to prevent overpayments; or considering the costs and benefits, including any privacy and security concerns, of providing third parties controlled access to portions of the eFolder to facilitate the detection of potential overpayments.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2017, SSA stated that it added a section to a new form--Form SSA-1698, Fee Agreement for Representation before the Social Security Administration--that claimants and representatives can use to enter into fee agreements. According to SSA, this form requires the disclosure of fees that the representative will receive from a third party and the amount of those fees. SSA expects this form to be in use upon OMB approval. Similar language already exists in another form--Form SSA-1560-U4, Petition to Obtain Approval of a Fee for Representing a Claimant before the Social Security Administration--that claimants and representatives can use for fee petitions. SSA stated that these forms are (and will be) included in the folder of evidence that adjudicators may review before determining whether and how much to authorize in fees. According to SSA, disclosure and approval of any third party fees, with potential adjustment of the fee, by both the claimant and SSA should help prevent excessive fees. While the proposed change to the form may help improve transparency of fee arrangements, the potential for a representative to receive a payment from SSA and also receive a payment from a state or other third party still exists. Unless SSA and the state or other third party share information on their payments or have policies and procedures in place to prevent such cases, representatives could still receive both SSA and state payments that total more than the SSA-authorized fee. In order to address this vulnerability, we continue to believe that SSA should enhance coordination or issue guidance to states and other third parties about this vulnerability, which could include SSA sharing best practices for preventing these types of overpayments. For example, one state requires contracted organizations to submit copies of their signed form 1696 (Appointment of Representative) so the state could verify the representative checked the appropriate box for payment.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to address potential disincentives for staff to detect and prevent physician-assisted fraud, SSA should review the standards used to assess DDS performance; and develop and distribute promising practices to incentivize staff to better balance the goal of processing claims promptly with the equally important goal of identifying and reporting evidence of potential fraud.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA partially agreed with this recommendation, citing that their employees take their stewardship responsibilities seriously and that field office and disability determination services (DDS) employees are the agency's first and best line of defense against fraud. In 2016, the agency reported that it was working with experts in its OIG and Office of Anti-Fraud Programs to develop and disseminate promising practices on identifying and reporting fraud. We will close this recommendation once SSA takes steps to review its standards for assessing DDS performance and disseminates the best practices it is developing.
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to address the potential risks associated with medical evidence submitted by sanctioned physicians, SSA should evaluate the threat posed by this information and, if warranted, consider changes to its policies and procedures.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of 2016, SSA reported that it was pursuing several options to address the potential risks of medical evidence submitted by sanctioned physicians. This included determining how it could use licensure information from the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities. SSA stated that it believes the best opportunity to further evaluate the possible review of the license statuses of medical evidence providers is in conjunction with the implementation of the National Vendor File, part of the national Disability Case Processing System, which is under development. In addition, SSA reported it had drafted two Social Security Rulings to define fraud and to provide processes for disregarding evidence and making redeterminations in disability claims when there is reason to believe that fraudulent evidence was provided. We will close this recommendation once SSA articulates a strategy for using license status information in the vendor file and it finalizes its rulings.
    Recommendation: To improve the ability of the agency to detect and prevent potential physician-assisted fraud, and to help ensure new initiatives that use analytics to identify potential fraud schemes are successful, SSA should develop an implementation plan that identifies both short- and long-term actions, including: (1) timeframes for implementation; (2) resources and staffing needs; (3) data requirements, e.g., the collection of unique medical provider information; (4) how technology improvement will be integrated into existing technology improvements such as the Disability Case Processing System and National Vendor File; and (5) how different initiatives will interact and support each other.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: Since fiscal year 2015, SSA has taken several steps that will help the agency to combat fraud, waste, and abuse. SSA established the Office of Anti-Fraud Programs to provide centralized oversight and accountability for the agency's initiatives, which, in consultation with the Office of the Inspector General and other SSA components, will lead the development of SSA's anti-fraud initiatives and activities. This includes efforts to mitigate fraud through data analytics that utilize SSA's existing data systems. SSA developed a strategic plan for fiscal years 2016-2018 to guide its anti-fraud efforts that includes the use of data analytics. However, this plan does not specifically address actions to combat potential physician-assisted fraud. As of April 2017, SSA stated that it continued to develop a fraud management strategy that is consistent with the leading practices identified in GAO's report. Once the strategy is complete, SSA plans to conduct a fraud risk assessment on its major lines of business, beginning with the disability program in fiscal year 2017. We will continue to monitor SSA's progress to identify and prevent fraud schemes that include physicians.
    Director: Bagdoyan, Seto J
    Phone: (202) 512-4749

    1 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve SSA's ability to detect and prevent potential DI cash benefit overpayments due to work activity during the 5-month waiting period, the Commissioner of Social Security should assess the costs and feasibility of establishing a mechanism to detect potentially disqualifying earnings during all months of the waiting period, including those months of earnings that the agency's enforcement operation does not currently detect and implement this mechanism, to the extent that an analysis determines it is cost-effective and feasible.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: While the Social Security Administration (SSA) initially concurred with our August 2013 recommendation, as of February 2017, SSA has not assessed costs and feasibility of establishing a mechanism to detect potentially disqualifying earnings during all months of the waiting period. Instead, SSA concluded that conducting a study at this time would yield unreliable information because the agency's ability to obtain and track earnings from alternative sources is changing due to several requirements of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2016, which SSA believes will likely affect GAO's concerns. GAO continues to believe that undertaking an analysis to assess costs and feasibility could provide SSA with more comprehensive information with which to decide on potential revisions to its enforcement operation. We will continue to monitor SSA's efforts in this area.
    Director: Bertoni, Daniel
    Phone: (202)512-5988

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The incoming Commissioner of Social Security should determine if realigning the agency's headquarters, regional, or field office structure could yield increases in the agency's effectiveness and efficiency by launching an exploratory effort to assess the utility and feasibility of such a realignment or consolidation. These efforts could include holding discussions with other federal agencies, such as the Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service, to learn about their experiences undergoing similar transformations and studying the likely costs and benefits of consolidation, as well as other potential impacts.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA has determined that it will realign its office structure to support expanded online service delivery, but the agency has not yet taken steps to fully assess the utility and feasibility of such a realignment, such as studying the likely costs, benefits, and other potential impacts. In its March 2014 Agency Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018, SSA stated its intent to expand online services and encourage customers to conduct business with SSA online and said that the agency will streamline its field office structure, as well as its administrative office structure, to reduce costs and make the best use of its employees' time and skills. SSA also consulted with other federal agencies to learn about their experiences with similar efforts. In its April 2015 Vision 2025 document, SSA stated that the agency will align its physical infrastructure to efficiently meet customer and business needs. However, SSA needs to take additional concrete steps, such as defining specific actions the agency will need to take and resources required to achieve this vision.
    Director: Williamson, Randall B
    Phone: (206)287-4860

    3 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that servicemembers have equitable access to the military services' wounded warrior programs, including the RCP, and to establish central accountability for these programs, the Secretary of Defense should establish or designate an office to centrally oversee and monitor the activities of the military services' wounded warrior programs to include the following: (1) Develop consistent eligibility criteria to ensure that similarly situated recovering servicemembers from different military services have uniform access to these programs; (2) Direct the military services' wounded warrior programs to fully comply with the policies governing care coordination and case management programs and any future changes to these policies; (3) Develop a common mechanism to systematically monitor the performance of the wounded warrior programs--to include the establishment of common terms and definitions--and report this information on a biannual basis to the Armed Services Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD did not concur with our part (1) of our recommendation to develop consistent eligibility criteria, explaining that the three military department secretaries should have the ability to control entrance criteria into their wounded warrior programs and that varying eligibility criteria have not resulted in noticeable differences in access to these programs by recovering servicemembers or their families. In attachments to a memo dated April 8, 2014, DOD provided an update on progress made to implement parts (2) and (3) of the DOD-specific recommendation made in GAO-13-5. Regarding part (2), DOD reported that budget constraints had delayed its plan to conduct oversight visits to 63 service sites over a 12-month period to ensure that military wounded warrior programs were operating in compliance with DOD Recovery Coordinator Program policy. DOD stated that the Warrior Care Policy office, in coordination with the military service branches, had intended to begin these oversight visits and interviews in September 2013; that as of March 2014, five sites had been reviewed; and that results of the compliance visits would be available upon completion. Regarding part (3) of the recommendation, DOD's memo stated that DOD and VA continue work on developing policies on clinical and non-clinical care coordination. It also noted that interagency metrics for monitoring complex care coordination performance were under development by the DOD/VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee. Further, DOD stated that because the Joint Executive Council publishes an annual report, that reporting the progress in developing common terms and definitions used by wounded warrior programs to congressional committees would be of limited value. As of October 2016, when we determine what additional steps the agency has taken to implement this recommendation, we will update this information.
    Recommendation: To ensure that persistent challenges with care coordination, disability evaluation, and the electronic sharing of health records are fully resolved, the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs should ensure that these issues receive sustained leadership attention and collaboration at the highest levels with a singular focus on what is best for the individual servicemember or veteran to ensure continuity of care and a seamless transition from DOD to VA. This should include holding the Joint Executive Council accountable for (1) ensuring that key issues affecting recovering servicemembers and veterans get sufficient consideration, including recommendations made by the Warrior Care and Coordination Task Force and the Recovering Warrior Task Force; (2) developing mechanisms for making joint policy decisions; (3) involving the appropriate decision-makers for timely implementation of policy; and; (4) establishing mechanisms to systematically oversee joint initiatives and ensure that outcomes and goals are identified and achieved.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of October 2016, under the joint DOD/VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee, the departments have made progress to improve nonclinical care coordination procedures, primarily through the development of two initiatives?the Lead Coordinator initiative (in which a single care coordinator serves as the primary point of contact for a recovering servicemember) and through the use of a single, interagency care plan (ICP) for each recovering servicemember. As of March 2016, the departments were continuing the national rollout of the Lead Coordinator initiative and had trained nearly 3,700 DOD and VA personnel on the new process. In addition, DOD and VA continued the development of the ICP initiative, which will depend upon their ability to electronically exchange the information needed to implement servicemembers' care plans. In December 2015, DOD awarded a contract to support the ICP and to create electronic interoperability with VA. The departments anticipate testing their ability to exchange information digitally in June 2016 and achieving full operational capability by September 2016. We will continue to monitor progress to implement the joint Lead Coordinator and the ICP care coordination initiatives.
    Recommendation: To ensure that persistent challenges with care coordination, disability evaluation, and the electronic sharing of health records are fully resolved, the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs should ensure that these issues receive sustained leadership attention and collaboration at the highest levels with a singular focus on what is best for the individual servicemember or veteran to ensure continuity of care and a seamless transition from DOD to VA. This should include holding the Joint Executive Council accountable for (1) ensuring that key issues affecting recovering servicemembers and veterans get sufficient consideration, including recommendations made by the Warrior Care and Coordination Task Force and the Recovering Warrior Task Force; (2) developing mechanisms for making joint policy decisions; (3) involving the appropriate decision-makers for timely implementation of policy; and; (4) establishing mechanisms to systematically oversee joint initiatives and ensure that outcomes and goals are identified and achieved.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of October 2016, under the joint DOD/VA Interagency Care Coordination Committee, the departments have made progress to improve nonclinical care coordination procedures, primarily through the development of two initiatives?the Lead Coordinator initiative (in which a single care coordinator serves as the primary point of contact for a recovering servicemember) and through the use of a single, interagency care plan (ICP) for each recovering servicemember. As of March 2016, the departments were continuing the national rollout of the Lead Coordinator initiative and had trained nearly 3,700 DOD and VA personnel on the new process. In addition, DOD and VA continued the development of the ICP initiative, which will depend upon their ability to electronically exchange the information needed to implement servicemembers' care plans. In December 2015, DOD awarded a contract to support the ICP and to create electronic interoperability with VA. The departments anticipate testing their ability to exchange information digitally in June 2016 and achieving full operational capability by September 2016. We will continue to monitor progress to implement the joint Lead Coordinator and the ICP care coordination initiatives.