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    Federal Agency: "Social Security Administration"

    30 publications with a total of 88 open recommendations including 8 priority recommendations
    Director: Carol C. Harris
    Phone: (202) 512-4456

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer verifies the completeness of SSA's inventory of current telecommunications assets and services and establishes a process for ongoing maintenance of the inventory regarding services other than local and long-distance telecommunications. (Recommendation 16)

    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 of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer completes identification of the agency's future telecommunications needs and aligns its approach with the agency's enterprise architecture. (Recommendation 17)

    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 of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer uses configuration and change-management processes in its transition. (Recommendation 18)

    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 of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer identifies the resources needed for the full transition, documents the costs and benefits of transition investments, identifies staff resources needed for the remainder of the transition, and analyzes training needs for all staff working on the transition. (Recommendation 19)

    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 of the Social Security Administration should ensure that the Administration's Chief Information Officer completes efforts to identify measures of success for the transition, identifies transition risks related to critical systems and continuity of operations, and identifies mission-critical priorities in SSA's transition timeline. (Recommendation 20)

    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: William B. Shear
    Phone: (202) 512-8678

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To address demonstrated noncompliance with section 15(k) of the Small Business Act, as amended, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should comply with sections 15(k)(2), (k)(3), (k)(6), (k)(8), (k)(11), and (k)(15) or report to Congress on why the agency has not complied, including seeking any statutory flexibilities or exceptions believed appropriate.

    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: 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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    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: David Powner
    Phone: (202) 512-9286

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The following 17 agencies (the Secretaries of the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs; the Attorney General; and the Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Small Business Administration, and U.S. Agency for International Development; the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration) should each take action to complete the missing elements in their respective DCOI strategic plan, including addressing any identified challenges, and submit their completed strategic plan to OMB.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration agreed with our recommendation and described planned actions to address it. Specifically, the agency noted that it will continue to economize and evolve its data center optimization management and will continue to encourage open dialog and information exchange between agencies to achieve efficiencies and enhanced data center operations government-wide. We will continue to monitor the agency's efforts to address our recommendation.
    Director: Daniel Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should analyze the SEIE data to determine why a large proportion of transition-age youth on SSI with reported earnings did not benefit from the SEIE and, if warranted, take actions to ensure that those eligible for the incentive benefit from it.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that it would also explore various options for increasing connections to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), stating that in addition to assessing options for referring youth to VR and/or changing the Ticket to Work program, the agency will continue to research other options for supporting transitioning youth.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should analyze options to improve communication about SSA-administered work incentives and the implications of work on SSI benefits, with a goal of increasing understanding of SSI program rules and work incentives among transition-age youth and their families. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, updating SSAs procedures for staff meeting with SSI applicants, recipients, and their families to regularly and consistently discuss - when applicable--how work incentives can prevent reductions in benefit levels and how work history is considered during eligibility redeterminations.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation, noting that it already analyzed, and continuously monitors and solicits feedback on, options to improve communications. SSA also said it requires staff to meet with SSI recipients regularly and instructs staff to discuss relevant work incentives, and that there is no indication that staff are not providing youth with appropriate work incentive information. However, SSA did not explain how it knows or ensures that staff are providing this information and SSA policies do not instruct staff to consistently convey information to youth and families on how work may or may not affect age 18 redetermination. While SSA's new brochure provides information on age-18 redeterminations, work incentives and other resources, we believe it could also contain additional relevant information, for example, on Medicaid eligibility. We also noted that written information may not be sufficient for conveying complex information. In addition, while we recognize the important role that WIPA projects play in providing work incentives counseling to SSI youth, WIPA projects have limited capacity for serving youth along with other SSI recipients and disability insurance beneficiaries. Therefore, we continue to believe that there are opportunities for SSA to improve its communication with transition-age youth and their families, including through in-person or telephone interactions.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should work with the Secretary of Education to determine the extent to which youth on SSI are not receiving transition services through schools that can connect them to VR agencies and services.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA partially agreed with this recommendation. SSA noted its ongoing collaboration with Education and other agencies through the Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI (PROMISE) project, stating the initiative is testing the provision of VR services to youth receiving SSI and will provide some evidence related to the role of schools and VR services for this population. SSA also stated it will continue to pursue research in this area. While we recognize the value of this initiative, a final PROMISE evaluation is not expected until winter 2022. In addition, the PROMISE initiative was not designed to determine the extent to which youth on SSI are receiving transition services through schools or are otherwise connected to VR services. SSA also noted that it works with Education and other agencies through the Federal Partners in Transition (FPT) Workgroup to improve the provision of transition services to students with disabilities, and that the FPT has issued a blueprint of agencies' efforts. While the FPT can be a promising vehicle to help connect youth on SSI to key transition services, the FPT had not set timelines or milestones to achieve its broad goal to support positive outcomes for youth with disabilities, nor does it have a list or specific activities and tasks it will undertake. Therefore, we continue to believe additional collaboration by SSA with Education would be beneficial. SSA also noted several concerns related to complying with this recommendation, such as legal (privacy) concerns with data sharing, the capacity of state VR agencies to serve more individuals, and the receptivity of youth on SSI to receiving services. While we acknowledge these challenges, we believe that SSA can take steps to explore actions it could take after considering such legal issues. While low state VR capacity or individual motivation can obstruct receipt of VR services, they should not prevent SSA from working with Education to determine the extent to which SSI youth are sufficiently informed of VR resources that are potentially available to them.
    Recommendation: The Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should explore various options for increasing connections to VR agencies and services, including their potential costs and benefits. One option, among others, could be to expand the Ticket to Work program to include youth.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that, in addition to assessing legal and statutory options for referring youth to VR and/or changing the Ticket to Work program, it would also continue its research supporting youth.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To implement the goals and policy priorities of the 2020 Federal Youth Transition Plan, the Federal Partners in Transition (FPT) workgroup--the Secretaries of HHS, Education, Department of Labor, and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration--should develop a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA stated that the voluntary nature of the FPT precludes definitive implementation plans. However, we maintain that being a voluntary initiative does not preclude the FPT from establishing long-term milestones and clarifying roles and responsibilities. Without a long-term implementation plan that includes milestones and specific agency roles and assignments, it is less likely that the priorities outlined in the Federal Youth Transition Plan will be achieved.
    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: David Powner
    Phone: (202) 512-9286

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve federal agencies' efforts to rationalize their portfolio of applications, the heads of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, the Treasury, and Veterans Affairs; and heads of the Environmental Protection Agency; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; National Science Foundation; Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Office of Personnel Management; Small Business Administration; Social Security Administration; and U.S. Agency for International Development should direct their Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and other responsible officials to improve their inventories by taking steps to fully address the practices we identified as being partially met or not met.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In its comments on a draft of our report, SSA agreed with our recommendation. Subsequent to SSA informing us that it has taken action to implement the recommendation, we will follow up.
    Director: Jeszeck, Charles A
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To ensure that key information provided by claims specialists to potential claimants of Social Security retirement benefits is clear and consistent with POMS, the Commissioner of the SSA should take steps to ensure when applicable, claims specialists inform that delaying claiming will result in permanently higher monthly benefit amounts, and at least offer to provide claimants their estimated benefits at their current age, at full retirement age (FRA) (unless the claimant is already older than FRA), and age 70.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: On 10/19/16, SSA sent a message to technicians (including claims representatives who discuss claiming with clients in field offices or over the phone) reminding them to 1) inform claimants that delaying results in permanently higher benefits; and 2) provide estimated benefits at different claiming ages. While the reminder message to claims specialists is a positive step by the agency, SSA should continue to send periodic messages about these requirements to claims specialists. Further, SSA should have field office managers periodically discuss best practices for providing this information to potential claimants at office training sessions.
    Recommendation: To ensure that key information provided by claims specialists to potential claimants of Social Security retirement benefits is clear and consistent with POMS, the Commissioner of the SSA should take steps to ensure claims specialists understand that they should avoid the use of breakeven analysis to compare benefits at different claiming ages.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: On 10/19/16, SSA sent a message to technicians (including claims representatives who discuss claiming with clients in field offices or over the phone) reminding them not to use breakeven analysis or discuss breakeven points with claimants to compare benefits at different claiming ages. While the reminder message to claims specialists is a positive step by the agency, SSA should continue to send periodic messages to claims specialist to ensure that they understand the requirement to avoid use of breakeven analysis to compare benefits at different claiming ages.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that when applicable, claims specialists inform claimants that monthly benefit amounts are determined by the highest (indexed) 35 years of earnings, and that in some cases, additional work could increase benefits.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA reported that, as appropriate, it will issue a reminder to technicians or include instructions in SSA's Program and Operations Manual System (POMS) to reinforce the instructions. The agency did not provide information on how it plans to include this information in the online claims process.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that when appropriate, claims specialists clearly explain the retirement earnings test and inform claimants that any benefits withheld because of earnings above the earnings limit will result in higher monthly benefits starting at FRA.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: On 10/19/16, SSA sent a message to technicians (including claims representatives who discuss claiming with clients in field offices or over the phone) reminding them to inform claimants that any amounts withheld due to earnings (over limits) will result in higher benefits later on. While the reminder message to claims specialists is a positive step by the agency, SSA should continue to send periodic messages to claims specialist reinforcing the importance of explaining the earnings test, and informing potential claimants that any benefits withheld due to earnings will result in higher benefits starting at FRA. Further, SSA should have field office managers periodically discuss best practices for providing this information to potential claimants at office training sessions.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that claims specialists explain that lump sum retroactive benefits will result in a permanent reduction of monthly benefits. For the online claiming process, SSA should evaluate removing or revising the online question that asks claimants to provide a reason for not choosing retroactive benefits.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA stated that it will issue a reminder to technicians, instructing them to explain that a lump sum retroactive benefit would result in a permanent reduction in monthly benefits; or include instructions in SSA's Program and Operations Manual System (POMS). As for the question included in the online process, SSA said it will explore the underlying rationale for this question and consider modifying the question.
    Recommendation: To ensure potential claimants are consistently provided with key information during the claiming process to help them make informed decisions about when to claim benefits, SSA should take steps to ensure that the claims process include basic information on how life expectancy and longevity risk may affect the decision to claim benefits.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA updated Pub No. 05-10147 to mention that: 1) monthly benefits are higher for the rest of one's life the longer one delays claiming; 2) retirement may be longer than you think; and 3) for married couples, delaying claiming may increase survivor benefits. SSA also added a new question on this topic to its frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, "At what age should I start receiving my Social Security Retirement benefits?" The answer provides key information for individuals to consider, and links to the newly updated publication, the Retirement Estimator tool, and other resources that SSA offers. Updating and improving a key publication on this topic is a positive step by the agency. However, it is not clear if claimants will be able to access this information while they are applying for retirement benefits online. Further, SSA did not specify how it plans to instruct claims specialists to provide information on life expectancy and longevity risk during the in-person claims process.
    Director: Dan Bertoni
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure the agency has sufficient information about risks to SSI program integrity when making decisions about efforts to address them, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should conduct a risk assessment of the current manual process for connecting and adjusting claim records of SSI recipients who live in households with other SSI recipients, and, as appropriate, take steps to make cost-effective improvements to SSA's claims management system to address identified risks.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation stating that current SSI program rules do not support connecting records of unrelated individuals living in multiple recipient households. SSA also noted that it does not have evidence from its fiscal year 2014 payment accuracy reviews that manual processing of married couple multiple recipient household claims led to payment errors. As such, the agency stated that it could not commit resources to address this recommendation at this time, but noted if a legislative proposal is put forth that affects unrelated multiple SSI recipient households, SSA will assess program policy and systems risks as part of its evaluation and planning. However, we continue to believe that the manual processing currently used to connect and adjust claim records of SSI recipients who live in households with other SSI recipients leaves the agency at risk. SSA has acknowledged that it has not assessed the extent to which manual processing leads to payment errors, and the data they provided us on fiscal year 2014 improper payments to married couple recipients does not address the full scope of the issues we identified. Specifically, field office staff reported several instances in which manual processing is used to connect and adjust claims records for multiple recipient households due to system limitations, and indicated that these manual adjustments increase the likelihood of erroneous payments. These manually processed claims are for households with multiple related recipients whose SSI benefits are currently inter-related under program rules, such as multiple child recipients who are siblings or individual recipients who marry another recipient. Without an assessment of the risks associated with the manual processing of these claims, SSA is unable to determine if additional adjustments to its system would be a cost-effective use of its resources.
    Director: David A. Powner
    Phone: (202) 512-9286

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better ensure that the Dashboard ratings more accurately reflect risk, the Secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, State, Transportation, the Treasury, Veterans Affairs; the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct their CIOs to ensure that their CIO ratings reflect the level of risk facing an investment relative to that investment's ability to accomplish its goals.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The agency partially agreed with our recommendation and, in a written response, stated that its CIO rating criteria includes a review of the level of risk facing an investment relative to that investment's ability to accomplish its goals. The written statement also notes that the CIO receives regular updates from key stakeholders on investment risks and mitigation plans. When we confirm what actions have been taken, we will update.
    Director: David A. Powner
    Phone: (202) 512-9286

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To address obsolete IT investments in need of modernization or replacement, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, State, the Treasury, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs; the Attorney General; and the Commissioner of Social Security should direct their respective agency CIOs to identify and plan to modernize or replace legacy systems as needed and consistent with OMB's draft guidance, including time frames, activities to be performed, and functions to be replaced or enhanced.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The agency agreed with the recommendation and as of May 2017, the agency stated that it was working on finishing its Information Technology Modernization Plan that outlines 5 major applications that it plans to update. However, since OMB had not yet issued its legacy system guidance, it is unknown whether this plan is consistent with OMB's guidance. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this recommendation.
    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: David Powner
    Phone: (202) 512-9286

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, the Treasury, and Veterans Affairs; the Attorney General of the United States; the Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and U.S. Agency for International Development; the Director of the Office of Personnel Management; the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should take action to improve progress in the data center optimization areas that we reported as not meeting OMB's established targets, including addressing any identified challenges.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration agreed with our recommendation, and has taken initial steps to implement it. In April 2016, the agency stated in correspondence to GAO that it was in the process of transitioning to a new data center. While undergoing this transition, the agency stated that it was working to optimize its new data center and will have the capability to report on the Office of Management and Budget's optimization targets once the transition is complete. The agency expected to complete these steps by September 2016. As of July 2017, SSA reports on the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) IT Dashboard that it meets three (energy metering, data center facility space and power usage efficiency) of the five data center optimization metric targets that OMB currently requires agencies to report against. However, SSA reports that it does not meet the remaining two targets (related to server utilization and monitoring, and server virtualization). We will continue to monitor and evaluate the agency's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    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: Seto Bagdoyan
    Phone: (202) 512-6722

    4 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve SSA's ability to detect, prevent, and recover potential DI benefit overpayments due to the concurrent receipt of FECA benefits, the Commissioner of Social Security should review the potential DI overpayments resulting from FECA benefits identified in our case studies, as well as any indicators of fraudulent activity related to FECA benefits that were not self-reported by DI beneficiaries, and establish debt-collection efforts and fraud-related penalties, as appropriate.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of January 2017, SSA stated that it will continue reviewing the potential DI overpayments resulting from FECA benefits identified in GAO's case studies, as GAO recommended in July 2015, and that actions are due to be completed by the end of April 2017. GAO will continue to monitor SSA's efforts in this area.
    Recommendation: To improve SSA's ability to detect, prevent, and recover potential DI benefit overpayments due to the concurrent receipt of FECA benefits, the Commissioner of Social Security should review the instances described in our report in which SSA staff did not obtain proof of FECA benefits that were reported by DI beneficiaries and (1) determine the reasons for these occurrences and whether this is a pervasive problem; and (2) if necessary, design appropriate controls or make other efforts, such as staff training, to help ensure SSA staff obtain proof of workers' compensation payments, as required by SSA policy.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2017, SSA stated that it will continue reviewing the instances described in GAO's report in which SSA staff did not obtain proof of FECA benefits that DI beneficiaries reported nor took follow-up actions as needed, as GAO recommended in July 2015. SSA expected to complete its analysis by the end of April 2017. SSA also stated that it has published an administrative message to remind staff of correct development and processing procedures for FECA claims. GAO will continue to monitor SSA's efforts in this area.
    Recommendation: To improve SSA's ability to detect, prevent, and recover potential DI benefit overpayments due to the concurrent receipt of FECA benefits, the Commissioner of Social Security should, in accordance with OMB guidance, compare the costs and benefits of alternatives to SSA's current approach for reducing the potential for overpayments that result from the concurrent receipt of FECA benefits, which relies on beneficiaries to self-report any FECA benefits they receive. These alternatives could include, among others, routinely matching DOL's FECA program data with DI program data to detect potential DI overpayments.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: SSA has taken steps to address this recommendation, but it has not completed its efforts. Specifically, in February 2017, SSA told GAO that the agency continues to discuss with DOL a data-matching agreement to obtain FECA payment data for offsetting DI benefits in accordance with federal law, as GAO recommended in July 2015. SSA also stated that it has reviewed its internal controls, policies, and workflow processes related to DI beneficiaries who receive concurrent FECA payments. Because SSA has not completed its work in this area, it is too early to determine whether these actions will address the problems GAO identified. GAO will continue to monitor SSA's work in this area.
    Recommendation: To improve SSA's ability to detect, prevent, and recover potential DI benefit overpayments due to the concurrent receipt of FECA benefits, the Commissioner of Social Security should strengthen internal controls designed to prevent DI overpayments due to the concurrent receipt of FECA benefits by implementing the alternative that provides the greatest net benefits.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: SSA has taken steps to address this recommendation, but it has not completed its efforts. Specifically, in February 2017, SSA told GAO that the agency was negotiating with DOL to enter into a data matching agreement to obtain FECA payment data for offsetting DI benefits in accordance with federal law, as GAO recommended in July 2015. SSA also stated that it was reviewing its internal controls related to DI beneficiaries who receive concurrent FECA payments and is in the process of considering the best options for strengthening these internal controls. SSA further stated that in August 2016, it issued reminders to technicians regarding developing and processing DI cases when an individual is concurrently receiving FECA benefits. Because SSA has not completed its work in this area, it is too early to determine whether these actions will address the problems GAO identified. GAO will continue to monitor SSA's work in this area.
    Director: Carol R. Cha
    Phone: (202) 512-4456

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help the agency effectively manage spending on mobile devices and services, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure a complete inventory of mobile devices and associated services is established.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) described steps it was taking to address our recommendation. Specifically, the agency stated that it had deployed and is operating a Mobile Expense Management System that will be used to maintain an enterprise-wide inventory of mobile devices and associated services once all the agency's mobile service contracts/accounts have been successfully consolidated onto one of the agency's blanket purchasing agreements. SSA expected to complete this consolidation in the September to October 2016 timeframe. However, as of August 2017, the agency had not demonstrated that it had implemented the recommendation. We will continue to monitor its progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To help the agency effectively manage spending on mobile devices and services, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should ensure procedures to monitor and control spending are established agency-wide. Specifically, ensure that (1) procedures include assessing devices for zero, under, and over usage; (2) personnel with authority and responsibility for performing the procedures are identified; and (3) the specific steps to be taken to perform the process are documented.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) described steps it was taking to address this recommendation. Specifically, the agency stated that representatives from various agency components were working to develop and document the policies, guidelines, processes, and procedures to effectively implement an enterprise model for mobile provisioning and management. SSA expects to complete this effort in fiscal year 2017. As of August 2017, the agency had not demonstrated that it had addressed the recommendation. We will continue to monitor its progress in implementing this recommendation.
    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: Charlie Jeszeck
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that 401(k) plan participants have timely and adequate information to keep track of all their workplace retirement accounts, the Social Security Administration's Acting Commissioner should make information on potential vested plan benefits more accessible to individuals before retirement. For example, the agency could consolidate information on potential vested benefits, currently sent in the Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information notice, with the information provided in the Social Security earnings and benefits statement.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation, but did seek legal guidance to determine if it is permissible to include a general statement encouraging potential beneficiaries to pursue any external pension benefits in its benefit Statement. SSA's Office of the General Counsel determined that it would be permissible as long as it includes information required by law and the information is accurate. However, SSA continues to believe that adding such information would place SSA in a position to respond to issues or questions about ERISA and private pension plans, which SSA considers to be outside its mission and about which the agency has no firsthand legal or operational knowledge. Also, SSA believes that the current benefit Statement adequately covers the fact that people need other savings, pensions, and investments. Also, SSA sends notices to people who it believes quality for other pensions. In FY17, SSA reported no change in status to this recommendation. We continue to agree with SSA's view about providing information or advice about private pension plans generally. However, SSA's Notice of Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information already directs recipients to contact DOL with any questions, and we would expect that any changes made to make information on potential vested plan benefits more accessible to individuals before retirement - such as including the information in Social Security earnings and benefit statements - would continue to direct recipients to contact DOL with questions about ERISA policy. Furthermore, we continue to believe that individuals should receive information on any potential vested plan benefits prior to retirement.
    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: Carol R. Cha
    Phone: (202) 512-4456

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure the effective management of software licenses, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should develop an agency-wide comprehensive policy for the management of software licenses that addresses the weaknesses we identified

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration agreed with this recommendation, and in response, developed an agency-wide policy for the management of software licenses that addresses six of the seven key elements that a comprehensive software license should specify, including identifying clear roles, responsibilities, and central oversight authority for agency wide software licenses; and analyzing software license usage to make cost effective decisions. However, SSA's policy did not include guidance on providing appropriate agency personnel with sufficient software management training. We will continue to work with SSA and monitor the agency's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure the effective management of software licenses, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should employ a centralized software license management approach that is coordinated and integrated with key personnel for the majority of agency software license spending and/or enterprise-wide licenses.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with and has taken initial steps to implement our recommendation. In August 2017, SSA reported that it has established an informal workgroup to share software license management plans and processes. In addition, SSA's Information Technology Asset Management Policy discusses the agency's plan for a centralized software license management approach. We will continue to monitor SSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure the effective management of software licenses, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should establish a comprehensive inventory of software licenses using automated tools for the majority of agency software license spending and/or enterprise-wide licenses.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with and has taken initial steps to implement our recommendation. In August 2017, the Social Security Administration reported on actions taken to implement this recommendation such as the installation of a new version of asset directory on its mainframe. We will continue to evaluate the agency's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure the effective management of software licenses, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should regularly track and maintain a comprehensive inventory of software licenses using automated tools and metrics.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration has taken initial steps to implement our recommendation. For example, In August 2016, SSA reported that it has installed a Mainframe discovery tool and has entered all the agencys software contracts into an asset management repository. In addition, in August 2017 SSA reported that it installed a new version of an asset directory on its Mainframe. We will continue to evaluate SSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure the effective management of software licenses, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should analyze agency-wide departmental software license data, such as costs, benefits, usage, and trending data, to identify opportunities to reduce costs and better inform investment decision making.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with and has taken steps to implement our recommendation. In August 2017, SSA reported that it currently gathers data and conducts yearly exercises concerning its Microsoft software and reported on efforts to provide SSA the capability to analyze agency-wide software license data. We will continue to monitor the SSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure the effective management of software licenses, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should provide software license management training to appropriate agency personnel addressing contract terms and conditions, negotiations, laws and regulations, acquisition, security planning, and configuration management.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed with this recommendation. In its August 2017 status update, SSA reported that it continues to work on addressing this recommendation. We will continue to monitor SSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.
    Director: Wilshusen, Gregory C
    Phone: (202) 512-6244

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve the implementation of the act, the Administrator of Social Security should ensure the DIB performs annual reviews and submits annual reports on agency computer matching activities, as required by the act.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: We have not yet received information to validate agency actions on this recommendation. Subsequent to the agency stating that is has taken action, we plan to verify whether implementation has occurred.
    Director: Bertoni, Daniel
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: In order to enhance the accuracy of and ensure appropriate agency access to SSA's death data, and to clarify how SSA applies the eligibility requirements of the Social Security Act and enhance agencies' awareness of how to obtain access, the Social Security Administration's Acting Commissioner should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Operations to develop and publicize guidance it will use to determine whether agencies are eligible to receive SSA's full death file.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) disagreed with this recommendation, stating that each request to obtain the full death file is unique, and that officials must review them on a case-by-case basis to ensure compliance with various legal requirements. It also expressed concern that developing this guidance as we recommended would require agency expenditures unrelated to its mission in an already fiscally constrained environment. SSA noted that any federal agency that would like to explore accessing the full death master file (which includes state death records) should submit a request to SSA. SSA will review the file and, if satisfactory, enter into an Information Exchange Agreement covering terms, conditions and reimbursement for the exchange. As of April 2017, SSA reports that it is continuing its efforts and there is no change in status. GAO appreciates that agencies may base their request for the full death file on different intended uses, and supports SSA's efforts to ensure compliance with all applicable legal requirements. However, developing such guidance could help to ensure consistency in SSA's future decision making by the new Office of Data Exchange, and enhance agencies' ability to obtain the data in a timely and efficient manner.
    Recommendation: In order to enhance the accuracy of and ensure appropriate agency access to SSA's death data, and to increase transparency among recipient agencies, the Social Security Administration's Acting Commissioner should direct the Deputy Commissioner of Operations to share a more detailed explanation of how it determines reimbursement amounts for providing agencies with death information.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Social Security Administration (SSA) reported that it has implemented improvements in its estimating procedures for future reimbursable agreements to ensure consistent estimates for all customers. It reviews all reimbursable requests on a case-by-case basis to determine full costs (including direct and indirect expenses) to provide goods, resources, or services. However, the agency stated that it is not a typical government business practice to share these detailed costs for reimbursable agreements. As of April 2017, SSA reports that it is continuing its efforts and there is no change in status. We are encouraged that SSA has made efforts to standardize the estimates it shares with its federal partners. While we recognize that there may be limitations on the type of cost details SSA can provide to recipient agencies, we continue to believe that more transparency in conveying the factors that lead to the estimated and final reimbursement amounts recipient agencies are charged could help them make more informed decisions.
    Director: Powner, David A
    Phone: (202)512-9286

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve the agency's implementation of PortfolioStat, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the CIO to develop a complete commodity IT baseline.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In September 2014, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reported that the instruction set for its Special Expense Item process through which all non-labor IT dollars go now includes the definition of commodity IT baseline, and the requirement to identify all commodity IT baseline funds requested. SSA also stated it will report the commodity IT baseline results for fiscal year 2015 in its November integrated data collection report. We are reviewing the instruction set for the Special Expense Item process and SSA's November integrated data collection report to verify SSA's reported actions.
    Recommendation: To improve the agency's implementation of PortfolioStat, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration should direct the CIO to report on the agency's progress in consolidating the geospatial architecture to a shared service as part of the OMB integrated data collection quarterly reporting until completed.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2015, the Social Security Administration (SSA) reported that it had migrated its geospatial architecture to a shared service in September 2014 and was complying with OMB reporting requirements. In July 2016, the agency provided e-mail messages and meeting minutes documenting various stages of the migration as evidence that it was completed as planned. However, SSA did not provide evidence of reporting to OMB. We are following up with SSA to obtain this evidence.
    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: Bertoni, Daniel
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    1 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To help ensure that SSA's disability decisions are as equitable and consistent with modern views of disability as possible, the Commissioner of Social Security should conduct limited and focused studies on the availability and effects of considering more fully assistive devices and workplace accommodations in its disability determinations.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: On September 30, 2015 a committee convened by the Health and Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine initiated a study on assistive technology and workplace accommodations. As of April, 2017, SSA reported that the committee held public sessions on May 16, 2016, July 18, 2016, and September 27, 2016 at which several experts presented on relevant topics. The committee will use the information from these presentations along with their own research and literature to review and provide findings and conclusions for their final report which is expected by July 31, 2017. In April 2017, SSA also indicated it has collected additional information on consideration of reasonable accommodations through the Idea Scale system--a crowd sourcing technology. Depending on the results of the HMD study, SSA may potentially collect additional information on work accommodations through the Bureau of Labor Statistics' OIS project. We will continue to monitor the status and results of the HMD analysis and SSA's actions based on the committee's results and recommendations.
    Director: Daly, Kay L
    Phone: 2025124063

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better understand the relationship of costs and revenues related to fees SSA collects for administering state SSI supplementation programs, the Commissioner of SSA should direct appropriate officials to study those costs to determine the full cost, including the cost of services provided by other entities for the benefit of SSA.

    Agency: Social Security Administration
    Status: Open

    Comments: SSA is continuing with the roll out of the Employee Office Sampler to all field offices across the nation. According to SSA, this tool removes the manual aspect of the District Office Work Sampling process. A decision was made by SSA to update the Standard Time Values (STVs) used for costing out the full cost SSA incurs for processing state Social Security Insurance claims. SSA stated that it completed these studies in fiscal year 2012 and placed the new STVs into its Cost Analysis System for use in fiscal year 2013. According to SSA, this update allows SSA to more accurately capture the full cost of this work for the agency. In December 2016, SSA stated that it has completed the roll out of the Employee Office Sampler (EOS) to the field offices in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016. The Office of Financial Policy and Operations is currently working on a proposal for the IT Investment Process (ITIP) to roll out the EOS to the remaining operational components, targeted for early 2017.