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United States General Accounting Office: 


Before the Subcommittee on Social Security, Committee on Ways and 
Means, House of Representatives: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 9:00 a.m. 
Thursday, May 2, 2002: 

Social Security Administration: 

Agency Must Position Itself Now to Meet Profound Challenges: 

Statement of Barbara D. Bovbjerg, Director: 
Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, and: 

David L. McClure, Director: 
Information Technology Management Issues: 


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the challenges facing 
the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSA oversees three major 
programs that in fiscal year 2001 provided more than $450 billion in 
benefits to more than 50 million recipients. One or more of the three 
programs-—Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), Disability Insurance 
(DI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)-—touches the lives of 
almost every American family at one time or another. 

SSA has many strengths. The agency is considered to be a leader in 
federal service delivery, and it has a long tradition of strategic 
planning. In addition, SSA produces timely and accurate financial 
statements and is a leader among government agencies for its 
accountability reporting. 

However, since 1995, when SSA became an independent agency, we have 
called for effective leadership and sustained management attention to 
a relatively constant set of unresolved management challenges. 
[Footnote 1] These challenges include the need to redesign its 
disability claims process and heighten the focus on work for 
claimants, address management and oversight problems with its SSI 
program, meet its growing future service delivery demands, effectively 
implement its information technology initiatives, and strengthen its 
research and policy development capacity. Solutions to these 
challenges are difficult but necessary because they are linked to 
profound changes in our nation. The baby boom generation is nearing 
retirement age, people are living longer, technology and its 
applications are changing rapidly, and public expectations for faster 
and better service from government are growing. The implications of 
these changes create some management challenges and make others more 
difficult to overcome. 

Today, I will discuss SSA's progress in meeting these and other 
challenges. The information I am providing is based on our previous 
and ongoing work, much of it performed for these subcommittees. (See 
Related GAO Products at the end of this statement.) 

In summary, SSA has taken a number of varied steps to address its 
management challenges; however, the challenges remain, and some are 
becoming ever more pressing. In certain instances, SSA's actions show 
promise, but it is too early to tell how effective they will be; in 
others, SSA's efforts have not produced the desired results. In almost 
all cases, the agency has much more to do and will likely need to take 
bolder action or make more fundamental changes to existing programs or 

* SSA has been working for years to improve its disability claims 
process; yet, ensuring the quality and timeliness of its disability 
decisions remains one of the agency's greatest challenges. The agency 
faces some difficult decisions about its next steps in this area and 
may need to consider more fundamental changes to the process. In 
addition, although SSA has taken some positive steps to return people 
with disabilities to work, a more fundamental change to the agency's 
process and underlying philosophy is needed. Since 1996, we have 
called for SSA to integrate return-to-work strategies into all phases 
of its disability determination process to help disabled workers who 
can return to work to do so. 

* In 1997, we designated the SSI program as high risk because of its 
susceptibility to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. Since that 
time, SSA has taken or begun to take a number of concrete and 
appropriate steps to improve the integrity of the program. However, 
some of these actions are still in the early stages and have yet to 
yield significant results. We believe more can be done, including 
moving forward on proposals to simplify program requirements, which 
are often error prone and a major source of SSI overpayments. 

* The combination of three factors—the expected increase in demand for 
services as the baby boomers reach retirement age, the imminent 
retirement of a large part of the agencies workforce, and changing 
customer expectations—has the potential to cripple SSA's future 
service delivery system. Even though SSA has a number of human capital 
initiatives under way to help it prepare for the future, it lacks a 
service delivery plan that lays out a detailed blueprint for how 
service will be delivered in the future. Without such a plan, the 
agency cannot ensure that its human capital efforts fully will support 
its vision for service delivery and that it is effectively marshaling 
its scarce resources. 

* SSA is relying heavily on information technology initiatives to cope 
with its growing workloads, and it plans to increasingly use Web-based 
technologies to meet its service delivery goals. For fiscal year 2001, 
SSA estimated spending about $741 million on information technology 
systems and projects. Sound policies and procedures are fundamental to 
effectively managing information technology initiatives, and in a 
prior review, we found that SSA had not consistently implemented some 
key policies and procedures to guide its major information technology 
functions, including information security. Doing so is imperative, 
given that the agency has experienced mixed success in carrying out 
prior information technology initiatives. 

* Regarding the need to strengthen its ability to conduct research and 
contribute to policy development, SSA is well positioned to contribute 
vital information to policymakers on the overarching problem of 
ensuring the long-term solvency of the Social Security Trust Funds. 
The agency also has a responsibility to review and identify other 
areas where policy changes are needed, such as in its disability 
programs. SSA has recently increased the level of staff and resources 
available to support these activities; however, many of the agency's 
efforts are in the early stages, and it is not yet clear how the 
agency will use them and what their ultimate effect on SSA program 
policy will be. 

* Finally, in light of the terrorist events of September 11th, the 
nation has a heightened awareness of the need to protect sensitive 
information. SSA will need to continue to take steps to ensure that 
only individuals who are eligible for social security numbers (SSN) 
receive them and to ensure that its information on deceased SSN 
holders is accurate and timely. However, once SSA has issued an SSN to 
an individual, the agency has little control over how SSNs are used by 
other government agencies and the private sector. As we complete our 
review of how federal, state, and local programs and agencies use SSNs 
and how well they protect them, we look forward to exploring with you 
additional options to better protect SSNs. 


SSA administers three major federal programs. OASI and DI, together 
commonly known as Social Security, provide benefits to retired and 
disabled workers and their dependents and survivors. In fiscal year 
2001, SSA provided OASI retirement benefits totaling more than $369 
billion to over 38 million individuals and DI benefits of more than 
$59 billion to 6.8 million individuals. These benefits are paid from 
trust funds that are financed through payroll taxes paid by workers 
and their employers and by the self-employed. The third program, SSI, 
provides income for aged, blind, or disabled individuals with limited 
income and resources. In fiscal year 2001, 6.7 million individuals 
received almost $28 billion in SSI benefits.[Footnote 2] SSI payments 
are financed from general tax revenues. 

To administer these programs, SSA must perform certain essential 
tasks. It must issue SSNs to individuals, maintain earnings records 
for individual workers by collecting wage reports from employers, use 
these records and other information to determine the amount of 
benefits an applicant may receive, and process benefit claims for all 
three programs. 

To meet its customer service responsibilities, SSA operates a vast 
network of offices distributed throughout the country. These offices 
include approximately 1,300 field offices, which, among other things, 
take applications for benefits; 138 Offices of Hearings and Appeals; 
and 36 teleservice centers responsible for SSA's national 800 number 
operations.[Footnote 3] The agency's policy is to provide customers 
with a choice in how they conduct business with SSA. Options include 
visiting or calling a field office, calling SSA's toll-free number, or 
contacting SSA through the mail or the Internet. To conduct its work, 
SSA employs almost 62,000 staff. In addition, to make initial and 
ongoing disability determinations, SSA contracts with 54 state 
disability determination service (DDS) agencies under authority of the 
Social Security Act.[Footnote 4] Although federally funded and guided 
by SSA in their decision making, these agencies hire their own staff 
and retain a degree of independence in how they manage their offices 
and conduct disability determinations.[Footnote 5] Overall, SSA relies 
extensively on information technology to support its large volumes of 
programmatic and administrative work. 

The process for obtaining SSA disability benefits under either DI or 
SSI is complex, and multiple organizations are involved in determining 
whether a claimant is eligible for benefits. As shown in figure 1, the 
current process consists of an initial decision and as many as three 
levels of administrative appeals if the claimant is dissatisfied with 
SSA's decision. 

Figure 1: SSA's Disability Claims Process: 

[Refer to PDF for image: illustration] 

Claimant Contacts SSA Field Office: 
Application Process Begins: 
SSA Field Office personnel: 
* Obtain information; 
* Determines eligibility for nonmedical factors; 
If nonmedical eligibility factors are met, application is forwarded to 

Initial Determination: 
State DDS personnel: 
* Gather, develop, and review medical evidence; 
* Decide on eligibility on basis of medical and work-related factors; 
If determination is not favorable, claimant has 60 days to request a 

State DDS personnel: 
* Reexamine prior and any new evidence; 
* Render a new eligibility decision. 
If reconsideration is not favorable, claimant has 60 days to request a 
hearing before an ALJ. 

Administrative Law Judge (AU) Hearing: 
SSA Hearings Office personnel: 
* Review for additional medical evidence; 
* Conduct a hearing and render a new decision. 
If ALJ decision is not favorable, claimant has 60 days to request an 
appeals council review. 

Appeals Council: 
SSA Appeals Council: 
* Decides whether to review the case; 
* If case is reviewed, decides whether to reverse decision or return 
case to ALJ. 
If appeals council decision is not favorable, claimant can appeal to 
federal court. 

Federal Court: 
Renders a new decision. 

[End of figure] 

Each level of appeal involves multi-step procedures for evidence 
collection, review, and decision making. Generally, a claimant applies 
for disability benefits at one of SSA's 1,300 field offices across the 
country. If the claimant meets certain nonmedical program eligibility 
criteria, the field office staff forward the claim to the DDS. DDS 
staff then obtain medical evidence about the claimant's impairment and 
determine whether the claimant is disabled. Claimants who are 
initially denied benefits can appeal by requesting the DDS to 
reconsider its initial denial. If the decision at the reconsideration 
level remains unfavorable, the claimant can request a hearing before a 
federal administrative law judge at an SSA hearings office and, if 
still dissatisfied, a review by SSA's appeals council. After 
exhausting these administrative remedies, the individual may file a 
complaint in federal district court. 

The agency's ability to continue providing Social Security benefits 
over the long term is strained by profound demographic changes. The 
baby boom generation is nearing retirement age. In addition, life 
expectancy has increased continually since the 1930s, and further 
increases are expected. This increase in life expectancy, combined 
with falling fertility rates, mean that fewer workers will be 
contributing to Social Security for each aged, disabled, dependent, or 
surviving beneficiary. Beginning in 2017, Social Security's 
expenditures are expected to exceed its tax income. By 2041, without 
corrective action, experts expect the combined OASI and DI trust funds 
to be depleted, leaving insufficient funds to pay the current level of 
benefits. Unless actions are taken to reform the social security 
system, the nation will face continuing difficulties in financing 
social security benefits in the long term. Over the past few years, a 
wide array of proposals has been put forth to restore Social 
Security's long-term solvency, and in December 2001, a commission 
appointed by the president presented three alternative proposals for 

This solvency problem is part of a larger and significant fiscal and 
economic challenge facing our aging society. The expected growth in 
the Social Security program (OASI and DI), combined with even faster 
expected growth in Medicare and Medicaid, will become increasingly 
unsustainable over time, compounding an ongoing decline in budget 
flexibility. Absent changes in the structure of Social Security and 
Medicare, there would be virtually no room for any other budget 
priorities in future decades. Ultimately, restoring our long-term 
fiscal flexibility will involve reforming existing federal entitlement 
programs and promoting the saving and investment necessary for robust 
long-term economic growth.[Footnote 6] 

Additional Progress Is Needed to Improve SSA's Disability 
Determination Process and to Return People to Work: 

The disability determination process is time-consuming, complex, and 
expensive. Individuals who are initially denied benefits by SSA and 
appeal their claim experience lengthy waits for a final decision on 
their eligibility, and questions have been raised about the quality 
and consistency of certain disability decisions. Since 1994, SSA has 
introduced a wide range of initiatives intended to address long-
standing problems with its disability claims process. However, the 
agency's efforts, in general, have not achieved the intended result, 
and the problems persist. Because SSA's DI and SSI programs are 
expected to grow significantly over the next decade, improving the 
disability determination process remains one of SSA's most pressing 
and difficult challenges requiring immediate and sustained attention 
from the new commissioner. Additionally, in redesigning its disability 
decision-making process, SSA still needs to incorporate into its 
eligibility assessment process an evaluation of what is needed for an 
individual to return to work. We have recommended developing a 
comprehensive return-to-work strategy that focuses on identifying and 
enhancing the work capacities of applicants and beneficiaries. 

Improvements to the Disability Determination Process Have Been Limited: 

SSA's complex disability claims process has been plagued by a number 
of long-standing weaknesses that have resulted in lengthy waiting 
periods for claimants seeking disability benefits. For example, 
claimants who wish to appeal an initial denial of benefits frequently 
wait more than 1 year for a final decision. We have reported that 
these long waits result, in part, from complex and fragmented decision-
making processes that are laden with many layers of reviews and 
multiple handoffs from one person to another. The cost of 
administering the DI and SSI programs reflects the demanding nature of 
the process. Although SSI and DI program benefits account for less 
than 20 percent of the total benefit payments made by SSA, they 
consume nearly 55 percent of annual administrative resources. 

In addition to its difficulties in processing claims, SSA has also had 
difficulty ensuring that decisions about a claimant's eligibility for 
disability benefits are accurate and consistent across all levels of 
the decision-making process. For example, our work shows that in 
fiscal year 2000, about 40 percent of applicants whose cases were 
denied at the initial level appealed this decision and about two-
thirds were awarded benefits. This happens in part because decision 
makers at the initial level use a different approach to evaluate 
claims and make decisions than those at the appellate level. The 
inconsistency of decisions at these two levels has raised questions 
about the fairness, integrity, and cost of SSA's disability programs. 

In 1994, SSA laid out a plan to address these problems, yet that plan 
and three subsequent revisions in 1997, 1999, and 2001 have yielded 
only limited success. The agency's initial plan entailed a massive 
effort to redesign the way it made disability decisions. Among other 
things, SSA planned to develop a streamlined decision-making and 
appeal process, more consistent guidance and training for decision 
makers at all levels of the process, and an improved process for 
reviewing the quality of eligibility decisions. In our reviews of 
SSA's efforts after 2 years, 4 years, and again in 2001, we found that 
the agency had accomplished little.[Footnote 7] In some cases, the 
plans were too large and too complex to keep on track, and the results 
of many of the initiatives that were tested fell far short of 
expectations. Moreover, the agency was not able to garner consistent 
stakeholder support and cooperation for its proposed changes. 

Despite the overall disappointing progress, the agency did experience 
some successes. For example, it conducted a large training effort to 
improve the consistency of decisions, which agency officials believe 
resulted in 90,000 eligible individuals' receiving benefits 500 days 
sooner than otherwise might have been the case over a 3-year period. 
In addition, the agency issued formal guidance in a number of areas 
intended to improve the consistency of decisions between the initial 
and appellate levels. 

Overall, however, significant problems persist and difficult decisions 
remain. For example, SSA is currently collecting final data on the 
results from an initiative known as the Prototype, which was 
implemented in 10 states in October 1999. Although interim data 
indicated that the Prototype resulted in more awards at the initial 
decision level without compromising accuracy, it also indicated that 
the number of appeals would increase. This, in turn, would result in 
both higher administrative and benefit costs and lengthen the wait for 
final decisions on claims. As a result, SSA decided that the Prototype 
would not continue in its current form. Recently, SSA announced its 
"short-term" decision to revise some features of the Prototype to 
improve disability claims processing time while it continues to 
develop longer-term improvements. It remains to be seen whether these 
revisions will retain the positive results from the Prototype while 
also controlling administrative and benefit costs. 

Even more pressing in the near term is the management and workload 
crisis that SSA faces in its hearings offices. The agency's 1999 plan 
included an initiative to overhaul operations at its hearing offices 
to increase efficiency and significantly reduce processing times at 
that level; however, this nationwide effort not only has failed to 
achieve its goals but, in some cases, has made things worse. The 
initiative has suffered, in part, from problems associated with 
implementing large-scale changes too quickly without resolving known 
problems. As a result, the average case-processing time slowed and 
backlogs of cases waiting to be processed approached crisis levels. We 
have recommended that the new commissioner act quickly to implement 
short-term strategies to reduce the backlog and develop a long-range 
strategy for a more permanent solution to the backlog and efficiency 
problems at the Office of Hearings and Appeals.[Footnote 8] According 
to SSA officials, they have recently made some decisions on short-term 
initiatives to reduce the backlogs and streamline the process, and 
they are preparing to negotiate with union officials regarding some of 
these planned changes. 

Finally, SSA's 1994 plan to redesign the claims process called for the 
agency to revamp its existing quality assurance system. However, 
because of disagreement among stakeholders on how to accomplish this 
difficult objective, progress in this area has been limited. In March 
2001, a contractor issued a report assessing SSA's existing quality 
assurance practices and recommended a significant overhaul to 
encompass a more comprehensive view of quality management. We agreed 
with this assessment and recommended that SSA develop an action plan 
for implementing a more comprehensive and sophisticated quality 
assurance program.[Footnote 9] Since then, the commissioner has 
signaled the high priority she attaches to this effort by appointing 
to her staff a senior manager for quality who reports directly to her. 
The senior manager is responsible for developing a proposal to 
establish a quality-oriented approach to all SSA business processes. 
The manager is currently assembling a team to carry out this 
challenging undertaking. 

The disappointing results of some of these initiatives can be linked, 
in part, to slow progress in achieving technological improvements. As 
originally envisioned, SSA's plan to redesign its disability 
determination process was heavily dependent upon these improvements. 
The agency spent a number of years designing and developing a new 
computer software application to automate the disability claims 
process. However, SSA decided to discontinue the initiative in July 
1999, after about 7 years, citing software performance problems and 
delays in developing the software.[Footnote 10] 

In August 2000, SSA issued a new management plan for the development 
of the agency's electronic disability system. SSA expects this effort 
to move the agency toward a totally paperless disability claims 
process. The strategy consists of several key components, including 
(1) an electronic claims intake process for the field offices, (2) 
enhanced state DDS claims processing systems, and (3) technology to 
support the Office of Hearing and Appeals' business processes. The 
components are to be linked to one another through the use of an 
electronic folder that is being designed to transmit data from one 
processing location to another and to serve as a data repository, 
storing documents that are keyed in, scanned, or faxed. SSA began 
piloting certain components of its electronic disability system in one 
state in May 2000 and has expanded this pilot test to one more state 
since then. According to agency officials, SSA has taken various steps 
to increase the functionality of the system; however, the agency still 
has a number of remaining issues to address. For example, SSA's system 
must comply with privacy and data protection standards required under 
the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, and the 
agency will need to effectively integrate its existing legacy 
information systems with new technologies, including interactive Web-
based applications. 

SSA is optimistic that it will meet its scheduled date for achieving a 
paperless disability claims process—anticipated for the end of 2005—
and has taken several actions to ensure that its efforts support the 
agency's mission. For example, to better ensure that its business 
processes drive its information technology strategy, SSA has 
transferred management of the electronic disability strategy from the 
Office of Systems to the Office of Disability and Income Security 
Programs. In addition, SSA hired a contractor to independently 
evaluate the electronic disability strategy and recommend options for 
ensuring that the effort addresses all of the business and technical 
issues required to meet the agency's mission. According to an agency 
official, SSA is currently implementing the contractor's 
recommendations. As SSA proceeds with this new system, however, it is 
imperative that the agency effectively identify, track, and manage the 
costs, benefits, schedule, and risks associated with the system's full 
development and implementation. Moreover, SSA must ensure that it has 
the right mix of skills and capabilities to support this initiative 
and that desired end results are achieved. 

Overall, SSA is at a crossroads in its efforts to redesign and improve 
its disability claims process. It has devoted significant time, 
energy, and resources to its redesign initiatives over the last 7 
years, yet progress has been limited and often disappointing. SSA is 
not the only government agency to experience difficulty in overhauling 
or reengineering its operations. According to reengineering experts, 
many federal, state, and local agencies have failed in similar 
efforts. Frequent leadership turnover, constraints on flexibility 
posed by laws and regulations, and the fact that government agencies 
often must serve multiple stakeholders with competing interests all 
constrain progress. Yet, it is vital that SSA address its claims 
process problems now, before the agency experiences another surge in 
workload as the baby boomers reach their disability-prone years. To 
date, the focus on changing the steps and procedures of the process or 
changing the duties of its decision makers has not been successful. 
Given this experience, it may be appropriate for the agency to 
undertake a new and comprehensive analysis of the fundamental issues 
impeding progress. Such an analysis might include reassessing the root 
causes contributing to its problems and would encompass concerns 
raised by the Social Security Advisory Board, such as the 
fragmentation and structural problems in the agency's overall 
disability service delivery system. The outcome of this analysis may, 
in some cases, require legislative changes. 

SSA Lacks a Comprehensive Strategy to Return People with Disabilities 
to Work: 

The number of working-age beneficiaries of the DI and SSI programs has 
increased by 61 percent over the past 10 years. We have reported that 
as the beneficiary population has grown, numerous technological and 
medical advances, combined with changes in society and the nature of 
work, have increased the potential for some people with disabilities 
to return to, or remain in, the labor force. Also, legislative changes 
have focused on returning disabled beneficiaries to work. The 
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 supports the premise that 
people with disabilities can work and have the right to work, and the 
Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 increased 
beneficiaries' access to vocational services. Indeed, many 
beneficiaries with disabilities indicate that they want to work, and 
many may be able work in today's labor market if they receive needed 
support. In 1996, we recommended that SSA place a greater priority on 
helping disabled beneficiaries work, and the agency has taken a number 
of actions to improve its return-to-work practices. But even with 
these actions, SSA has achieved poor results in this arena, where 
fewer than 1 in 500 DI beneficiaries and few SSI beneficiaries leave 
the disability rolls to work. 

Even in light of the Ticket to Work Act, SSA will continue to face 
difficulties in returning beneficiaries to work, in part owing to 
weaknesses, both statutory and policy, in the design of the DI 
program. As we have reported in the past, these weaknesses include an 
either/or disability decision-making process that characterizes 
individuals as either unable to work or having the capacity to work. 
This either/or process produces a strong incentive for applicants to 
establish their inability to work to qualify for benefits. 

Moreover, return-to-work services are offered only after a lengthy 
determination process. Because applicants are either unemployed or 
only marginally connected to the labor force at the time of 
application and remain so during the eligibility determination 
process, it is likely that their skills, work habits, and motivation 
to work deteriorate during this wait. Thus, individuals who have 
successfully established their disability may have little reason or 
desire to attempt rehabilitation and work. Unlike some private sector 
disability insurers and foreign social insurance systems, SSA does not 
incorporate into its initial or continuing eligibility assessment 
process an evaluation of what is needed for an individual to return to 
work. Instead of receiving assistance to stay in the workforce or 
return to work—and thus to stay off the long-term disability rolls—an 
individual can obtain assistance through DI or SSI only by proving his 
or her inability to work. And even in its efforts to redesign the 
decision-making process, SSA has yet to incorporate into these 
initiatives an evaluation of what an individual may need to return to 

Moreover, SSA has made limited strides in developing baseline data to 
measure progress in the return-to-work area. In June 2000, we reported 
that many of SSA's fiscal year 2001 performance measures were not 
sufficiently results oriented, making it difficult to track progress. 
SSA's fiscal year 2002 performance plan shows that SSA has begun to 
incorporate more outcome-oriented performance indicators that could 
support their efforts in this area. Two new indicators, in particular, 
could help SSA gauge progress: the percentage increase in the number 
of DI beneficiaries whose benefits are suspended or terminated owing 
to employment and the percentage increase in the number of disabled 
SSI beneficiaries no longer receiving cash benefits. However, SSA has 
not yet set specific performance targets for these measures. 

Nevertheless, SSA has recently stepped up its return-to-work efforts. 
For example, it has (1) established an Office of Employment Support 
Programs to promote employment of disabled beneficiaries; (2) 
recruited 184 public or private entities to provide vocational 
rehabilitation, employment, and other support services to 
beneficiaries under the Ticket to Work Program; (3) raised the limit 
on the amount a DI beneficiary can earn from work and still receive 
benefits to encourage people with disabilities to work; (4) funded 12 
state partnership agreements that are intended to help the states 
develop services to increase beneficiary employment; and (5) completed 
a pilot study on the deployment of work incentive specialists to SSA 
field offices and is currently determining how to best implement the 
position nationally. 

While these efforts represent positive steps in trying to return 
people with disabilities to work, much remains to be done. As we have 
recommended previously, SSA still needs to move forward in developing 
a comprehensive return-to-work strategy that integrates, as 
appropriate, earlier intervention, including earlier and more 
effective identification of work capacities, and the expansion of such 
capacities by providing essential return-to-work assistance for 
applicants and beneficiaries. Adopting such a strategy is likely to 
require improvements to staff skill levels and areas of expertise, as 
well as changes to the disability determination process. It will also 
require fundamental changes to the underlying philosophy and direction 
of the DI and SSI programs, as well as legislative changes in some 
cases. Policymakers will need to carefully weigh the implications of 
such changes. Nevertheless, we remain concerned that the absence of 
such a strategy and accompanying performance plan goals may hinder 
SSA's efforts to make significant strides in the return-to-work area. 
An improved return-to-work strategy could benefit both the 
beneficiaries who want to work and the American taxpayer. 

Longstanding High-Risk SSI Issues Require Sustained Management and 

The SSI program is the nation's largest cash assistance program for 
the poor. In fiscal year 2000, the program paid 6.6 million low-income 
aged, blind, and disabled recipients $31 billion in benefits. During 
that year, newly detected overpayments and outstanding SSI debt 
totaled more than $3.9 billion. In 1997, after several years of 
reporting on specific instances of abuse and mismanagement, increasing 
overpayments, and poor recovery of outstanding SSI debt, we designated 
SSI a high-risk program. The SSI program poses a special challenge for 
SSA because, unlike OASI and DI, it is a means-tested program; thus, 
SSA must collect and verify information on income, resources, and 
recipient living arrangements to determine initial and continuing 
eligibility for the program. Our prior work, however, shows that SSA 
has often placed a greater priority on quickly processing and paying 
SSI claims with insufficient attention to verifying recipient self-
reported information, controlling program expenditures, and pursuing 
overpayment recoveries once they occur. 

In response to our high-risk designation, SSA has made progress in 
coordination with Congress to improve the financial integrity and 
management of SSI, including developing a major SSI legislative 
proposal with numerous overpayment deterrence and recovery provisions. 
Many of these provisions were incorporated into the Foster Care 
Independence Act, which was signed into law in December 1999. The act 
directly addresses a number of our prior recommendations and provides 
SSA with additional tools to obtain applicant income and resource 
information from financial institutions; imposes a period of 
ineligibility for applicants who transfer assets to qualify for SSI 
benefits; and authorizes the use of credit bureaus, private collection 
agencies, interest levies, and other means to recover delinquent debt. 
SSA also obtained separate legislative authority in 1998 to recover 
overpayments from former SSI recipients currently receiving OASI or DI 
benefits. The agency was previously excluded from using this cross-
program recovery tool to recover SSI overpayments without first 
obtaining debtor consent. As a result of this new authority, SSA has 
recently begun the process of recovering overpayments from Social 
Security benefits of individuals no longer on the SSI rolls. The 
agency has also issued regulations on the use of credit bureaus and 
drafted regulations for wage garnishments. We have been told that the 
draft regulations are currently under review by the new commissioner 
and by the Office of Management and Budget. 

In addition to establishing the new legislative authorities, SSA has 
initiated a number of internal administrative actions to further 
strengthen SSI program integrity. These include using tax refund 
offsets for delinquent SSI debtors, an action that SSA said resulted 
in $61 million in additional overpayment recoveries last year. SSA 
also uses more frequent (monthly) automated matches to identify 
ineligible SSI recipients living in nursing homes and other 
institutions. As of January 2001, SSA's field offices were also 
provided on-line access to wage, new-hire, and unemployment insurance 
data maintained by the Office of Child Support Enforcement. These data 
are key to field staffs ability to more quickly verify employment and 
income information essential to determining SSI eligibility and 
benefit levels. SSA also increased the number of SSI financial 
redeterminations that it conducted, from about 1.8 million in fiscal 
year 1997 to about 2.2 million in fiscal year 2000. These reviews 
focus on income and resource factors affecting eligibility and payment 
amounts. SSA estimates that by conducting more redeterminations and 
refining its methodology for targeting cases most likely to have 
payment errors, it prevented nearly $600 million in additional 
overpayments in fiscal year 1999. 

SSA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has also increased the level 
of resources and staff devoted to investigating SSI fraud and abuse; 
key among the OIG's efforts is the formation of Cooperative Disability 
Investigation teams in 13 field locations. These teams are designed to 
identify fraud and abuse before SSI benefits are approved and paid. 
Finally, in response to our prior recommendation, SSA has revised its 
field office work credit and measurement system to better reward staff 
for time spent thoroughly verifying applicant eligibility information 
and developing fraud referrals. If properly implemented, such measures 
should provide field staff with much-needed incentives for preventing 
fraud and abuse and controlling overpayments. 

SSA's current initiatives demonstrate a stronger management commitment 
to SSI integrity issues and have the potential to significantly 
improve program management; however, our work shows that SSA 
overpayments and outstanding debt owed to the program remain at high 
levels. A number of the agency's initiatives—especially those 
associated with the Foster Care Independence Act—are still in the 
early planning or implementation stages and have yet to yield results. 
In addition, at this stage, it is not clear how great an effect the 
impact of SSA's enhanced matching efforts, online access tools, and 
other internal initiatives has had on the agency's ability to recover 
and avoid overpayments. The same is true for the agency's efforts to 
improve the accuracy of SSI eligibility decisions. 

SSA also has not yet addressed a key program vulnerability—-program 
complexity—-that is associated with increased SSI overpayments. In 
prior work, we have reported that SSI living arrangement and in-kind 
support and maintenance policies used by SSA to calculate eligibility 
and benefit amounts were complex, prone to error, and a major source 
of overpayments. We also recommended that SSA develop options for 
simplifying the program. Last year, SSA's policy office issued a study 
that discussed various options for simplifying complex SSI policies. 
Although SSA is considering various options, it has not moved forward 
in recommending specific cost neutral proposals for change. 

We believe that sustained management attention is necessary to improve 
SSI program integrity. Thus, it is important that SSA move forward in 
fully implementing the overpayment deterrence and recovery tools 
currently available to it and seek out additional ways to improve 
program management. Accordingly, we have a review under way that is 
aimed at documenting the range of SSI activities currently in place; 
their effects on program management and operations; and additional 
legislative or administrative actions, or both, necessary to further 
improve SSA's ability to control and recover overpayments. A 
particular focus of this review will be to assess remaining weaknesses 
in SSA's initial and ongoing eligibility verification procedures, 
application of penalties for individuals who fail to report essential 
eligibility information, and overpayment recovery policies. 

SSA Lacks a Plan to Help It Cope with Future Service Delivery 

Among federal agencies, SSA has long been considered one of the 
leaders in service delivery. Indeed, for fiscal year 2001, SSA 
reported that 81 percent of its customers rated the agency's services 
as "excellent," "very good," or "good." SSA considers service delivery 
one of its top priorities, and its current performance plan includes 
specific goals and strategies to provide accurate, timely, and useful 
service to the public. However, the agency faces significant 
challenges that could hamper its ability to provide high-quality 
service over the next decade and beyond. Demand for services will grow 
rapidly as the baby boom generation ages and enters the disability-
prone years. By 2010, SSA expects worker applications for DI to 
increase by as much as 32 percent over 2000 levels. Determining 
eligibility for disability benefits is a complex process that spans a 
number of offices and can take over a year to complete. As we have 
observed earlier in this statement, SSA already has trouble managing 
its disability determination workload; adding additional cases without 
rectifying serious case processing issues will only make things worse. 
Furthermore, by 2010, SSA projects that applications for retirement 
benefits will also increase dramatically—by 31 percent over the 2000 

SSA's ability to provide high-quality service delivery is also 
potentially weakened by challenges regarding its workforce. First, 
SSA's workforce is aging, and SSA is predicting a retirement wave that 
will peak in the years 2007 through 2010, when it expects about 2,500 
employees to retire each year. By 2010, SSA projects that about 37 
percent of its almost 62,000 employees will retire. The percentage is 
higher for employees in SSA's supervisory or managerial ranks. In 
particular, more than 70 percent of SSA's upper-level managers and 
executives (GS-14, GS-15, and SES level) are expected to retire by 
2010. Second, SSA will need to increase staff skills to deal with 
changing customer expectations and needs. SSA's staff will need to 
obtain and continually update the skills needed to use the most 
current technology available to serve the public in a more convenient, 
cost effective, and secure manner. At the same time, some aspects of 
SSA's customer service workload will likely become more time consuming 
and labor intensive, owing primarily to the growing proportion of 
SSA's non-English speaking customers and the rising number of 
disability cases involving mental impairments. Both situations result 
in more complex cases that require diverse staff skills. 

SSA has a number of workforce initiatives under way to help it prepare 
for the future. For example, as we recommended in 1993, and as 
required by law, SSA developed a workforce transition plan to lay out 
actions to help ensure that its workforce will be able to handle 
future service delivery challenges. In addition, recognizing that it 
will shortly be facing the prospect of increasing retirements, SSA 
conducted a study that predicts staff retirements and attrition each 
year, from 1999 to 2020, by major job position and agency component. 
SSA also began to take steps to fill its expected leadership gap. We 
have long stressed the importance of succession planning and formal 
programs to develop and train managers at all levels of SSA. As early 
as 1993, we recommended that SSA make succession planning a permanent 
aspect of its human resource planning and evaluate the adequacy of its 
investments in management training and development. SSA created three 
new leadership development programs to help prepare selected staff to 
assume mid- and top-level leadership positions at the agency. Overall, 
many of the efforts being made today are consistent with principles of 
human capital management, and good human capital management is 
fundamental to the federal government's ability to serve the American 
people. For this reason, we have designated strategic human capital 
management a high-risk area across the federal government.[Footnote 11] 

However, SSA is taking these human capital measures in the absence of 
a concrete service delivery plan to help guide its investments. We 
recommended as long ago as 1993 that SSA complete such a plan to 
ensure that its human capital and other key investments are put to the 
best use.[Footnote 12] In 1998, the agency took a first step by 
beginning a multi-year project to monitor and measure the needs, 
expectations, priorities, and satisfaction of customer groups, major 
stakeholders, and its workforce. In 2000, SSA completed a document 
that articulates how it envisions the agency functioning in the 
future.[Footnote 13] For example, SSA anticipates offering services in 
person, over the telephone, and via the Internet; its telephonic and 
electronic access services will be equipped with sophisticated voice 
recognition and language translation features, and work will be 
accomplished through a paperless process. In this service vision 
document, SSA also states that it will rely heavily on a workforce 
with diverse and updated skills to accomplish its mission. Although 
this new vision represents a positive step for the agency toward 
acknowledging and preparing for future service delivery challenges, it 
is too broad and general to be useful in making specific information 
technology and workforce decisions. We have stressed that this 
document should be followed by a more detailed service delivery plan 
that spells out who will provide what type of services in the future, 
where these services will be made available, and the steps and 
timetables for accomplishing needed changes. SSA officials told us 
that they are working on such a blueprint. Without this plan, SSA 
cannot ensure that its investments in its workforce and technology are 
consistent with and fully support its future approach to service 

SSA's Future Success Is Linked to Effectively Managing Information 
Technology Initiatives: 

SSA also plans to rely heavily on information technology to cope with 
growing workloads and to enhance its processing capabilities. To this 
end, the agency has devoted considerable time and effort to 
identifying strategies to meet its goal of providing world-class 
service. For example, SSA has begun expanding its electronic service 
delivery capability-—offering retirees the option of applying for 
benefits on-line as well as pursuing other on-line or Internet options 
to facilitate customer access to the agency's information and 
services. Yet, SSA's overall success in meeting its service delivery 
challenge will depend on how effectively it manages its information 
technology initiatives. As SSA transitions to electronic processes, it 
will be challenged to think strategically about its information 
technology investments and to effectively link these investments to 
the agency's service delivery goals and performance. Furthermore, its 
actions and decisions must effectively address dual modes of service 
delivery—its traditional services via telephone, face-to-face, and 
mail contacts that are supported primarily by its mainframe computer 
operations, as well as a more interactive, on-line, Web-based 
environment aimed at delivering more readily accessible services in 
response to increased customer demands. 

SSA has experienced mixed success in carrying out prior information 
technology initiatives. For example, the agency has made substantial 
progress in modernizing workstations and local area networks to 
support its work processes, and it has clearly defined its business 
needs and linked information technology projects to its strategic 
objectives. Moreover, our evaluation of its information technology 
policies, procedures, and practices in five key areas—investment 
management, enterprise architecture, software development and 
acquisition, human capital, and information security—found that SSA 
had many important information technology management policies and 
procedures in place.[Footnote 14] For instance, SSA had sound policies 
and procedures for software development that were consistent with best 
practices. However, SSA had not implemented its policies and 
procedures uniformly and had not established several key policies and 
procedures essential to ensuring that its information technology 
investments and human capital were effectively managed. We noted 
weaknesses in each of the five key areas and recommended actions to 
improve SSA's information technology management practices in each 
area. In total, our report included 20 specific recommendations for 
more effectively managing the agency's information technology. In 
responding to our report, SSA agreed with all of the recommendations. 

Let me illustrate some of the weaknesses that formed the basis for our 
recommendations. In making decisions on technology projects, SSA 
lacked key criteria and regular oversight for ensuring consistent 
investment management and decision-making practices. It also did not 
always consider costs, benefits, schedules, and risks when making 
project selections and as part of its ongoing management controls. 
Without such information, SSA cannot be assured that its investment 
proposals will provide the most cost-effective solutions and achieve 
measurable and specific program-related benefits (e.g., high-quality 
service delivered on time, within cost, and to the customer's 
satisfaction). Furthermore, given competing priorities and funding 
needs, SSA will need such information to make essential tradeoffs 
among its information technology investment proposals and set 
priorities that can maximize the potential for both short-and longer-
term improvements to services provided to the public. 

As SSA pursues Internet and Web-based applications to better serve its 
customers, it must ensure that these efforts are aligned with the 
agency's information technology environment. A key element for 
achieving this transition is the successful implementation of SSA's 
enterprise architecture. An enterprise architecture serves as a 
blueprint for systematically and completely defining an organization's 
current (baseline) and desired (target) environment and is essential 
for evolving information systems, developing new systems, and 
inserting emerging technologies that optimize their mission value. It 
also provides a tool for assessing benefits, impacts, and capital 
investment measurements and supporting analyses of alternatives, 
risks, and trade-offs. Nonetheless, we found that SSA had not 
completed key elements of its enterprise architecture, including (1) 
finalizing its enterprise architecture framework, (2) updating and 
organizing its architectures and architecture definitions under the 
framework, and (3) reflecting its future service delivery vision and e-
business goals. In addition, it had not ensured that enterprise 
architecture change management and legacy system integration policies, 
procedures, and processes were effectively implemented across the 

As SSA moves forward in implementing electronic services and other 
technologies, its architecture will be critical to defining, managing, 
and enforcing adherence to the framework required to support its 
current and future information processing needs. Moreover, without 
effective enterprise architecture change management and legacy system 
integration processes, SSA will lack assurance that (1) it can 
successfully manage and document changes to its architecture as 
business functions evolve and new technologies are acquired and (2) 
new software and hardware technologies will interoperate with existing 
systems in a cost-effective manner. In surveying 116 agencies across 
the federal government, we found the use of enterprise architectures 
to be a work in progress, with much left to be accomplished.[Footnote 
15] We assessed SSA at a relatively low level of maturity in 
enterprise architecture management. 

SSA plans to rely extensively on software-intensive systems to help 
achieve processing efficiencies and improved customer service. Because 
SSA is an agency in which software development continues to be 
predominantly an in-house effort, in 1997, its Office of Systems 
established the Software Process Improvement program, in which new 
policies and procedures were created to enhance the quality of the 
agency's software development. However, our evaluation of these 
policies and procedures found that SSA was not consistently applying 
them to its software development projects. In particular, SSA had not 
applied sound management and technical practices in its development of 
the electronic disability system. This poses a significant risk given 
SSA's history of problems in developing and delivering the critical 
software needed to support its redesigned work processes.[Footnote 16] 
The use of sound, disciplined software development processes is 
critical to ensuring that SSA delivers quality software on schedule 
and within established cost estimates. Until SSA consistently and 
effectively implements its software development policies and 
procedures, it will lack assurance that it can meet its goal of 
developing a technological infrastructure to support its service 
delivery vision. As SSA places increased emphasis on using information 
technology to support new ways of delivering service, it must ensure 
that it effectively manages its human capital to anticipate, plan for, 
and support its information technology requirements. However, SSA had 
not taken all of the necessary steps to ensure the adequacy of its 
future information technology workforce. For instance, we found that 
although SSA had begun evaluating its short- and longer-term 
information technology needs, these efforts were not complete. 
Specifically, SSA had not linked its information technology staff 
needs to the competencies it would require to meet mission goals. 
Doing so is necessary, however, to ensure that SSA's plans project 
workforce needs far enough in advance to allow adequate time for staff 
recruitment and hiring, skills refreshment and training, or 
outsourcing considerations. Furthermore, SSA lacked an inventory 
identifying the knowledge and skills of current information technology 
staff, which is essential for uncovering gaps between current staff 
and future requirements. Without such an inventory, SSA has no 
assurance that its plans for hiring, training, and professionally 
developing information technology staff will effectively target short- 
and long-term skills needed to sustain its current and future 
operations. These shortcomings in SSA's information technology human 
capital management could have serious ramifications as the agency 
moves toward making larger investments in new electronic service 
delivery options, such as Internet applications. Developing Internet 
applications represents a new era for SSA—one in which the agency must 
ensure that is has enough of the right people and skills to bring its 
electronic service delivery plan to fruition. 

As SSA proceeds with the development and implementation of Internet 
and Web-based initiatives, the need for a strong program to address 
threats to the security and integrity of its operations will grow. 
Without proper safeguards, these initiatives pose enormous risks that 
make it easier for individuals and groups with malicious intentions to 
intrude into inadequately protected systems and use such access to 
obtain sensitive information, commit fraud, disrupt operations, or 
launch attacks against other organizations' sites. 

SSA has made progress in addressing the information protection issues 
raised in prior years. Specifically, during fiscal year 2001, the 

* conducted a risk assessment to identify critical assets and 
vulnerabilities as part of the Critical Infrastructure Protection 

* issued a final security policy for the state Disability 
Determination Service sites in accordance with the information 
security requirements included in the National Institute of Standards 
and Technology Special Publication 800-18; 

* established and published technical security configuration standards 
for operating systems and servers; 

* completed updates for accreditation and certification of key 
systems; and; 

* further strengthened physical access controls over the National 
Computer Center. 

Nonetheless, weaknesses in SSA's information security program continue 
to threaten its ability to effectively mitigate the risk of 
unauthorized access to, and disclosure of, sensitive information. For 
example, although the agency has made improvements to its entity-wide 
security program and standards, control weaknesses continue to expose 
key elements of its distributed systems and networks to unauthorized 
access to sensitive data. The general areas where exposures occurred 
included implementation, enforcement, and ongoing monitoring of 
compliance with technical security configuration standards and rules 
governing the operation of firewalls; monitoring controls over 
security violations and periodic reviews of user access; and physical 
access controls at nonheadquarters locations. These exposures exist 
primarily because SSA has not completed implementation of its 
enterprise-wide security program. 

Until a complete security framework is implemented and maintained, 
SSA's ability to effectively mitigate the risk of unauthorized access 
to, and modification or disclosure of, sensitive SSA data will be 
impaired. Unauthorized access to sensitive data can result in the loss 
of data as well as trust fund assets, and compromised privacy of 
information associated with SSA's enumeration, earnings, benefit 
payment processes, and programs. The need for a strong security 
framework to address threats to the security and integrity of SSA 
operations will grow as the agency continues to implement Internet and 
Web-based applications to serve the American public. 

Program Challenges Require SSA to Play an Active Role in Research, 
Evaluation, and Policy Development: 

In the past, we have reported that SSA has not undertaken the range of 
research, evaluation, and policy analysis necessary (1) to identify 
areas where legislative or other changes are needed to address program 
weaknesses and (2) to assist policymakers in exploring and developing 
options for change. 

The long-term solvency of the Social Security system is a critical 
issue facing the nation and SSA. As the debate on Social Security 
reform proceeds, policymakers and the general public need thoughtful, 
detailed, and timely analyses of the likely effect of different 
proposals on workers, beneficiaries, and the economy. SSA is well 
positioned to assess the programmatic impacts of economic and 
demographic trends and to identify areas where policy changes are 
needed to ensure that recipients' needs are met efficiently and cost 

At the same time, SSA needs to prepare for the implementation of 
whatever programmatic changes are eventually made. Many of the reform 
proposals currently under debate will likely affect not only SSA but 
other government agencies as well. As part of their debate, 
policymakers need to understand the administrative aspects of each 
proposal, including the amount of time and money necessary to 
implement the proposed changes. SSA has information that could be 
central to the implementation and administration of proposed Social 
Security reforms and should be providing this information in a timely 
and accurate manner. 

SSA also faces a wide range of pressing challenges with its disability 
programs, including how best to 1) ensure the quality and timeliness 
of its decisions, 2) integrate return-to-work strategies into all 
phases of its disability determination process, and 3) address program 
complexity problems that have contributed to vulnerability in the SSI 
program. To address these challenges, SSA will need to target its 
research and conduct analyses that will allow the agency to play a key 
role in proposing and analyzing major policy changes. However, in the 
past, we have noted SSA's reluctance to take the actions needed to 
fulfill its policy development and planning role in advance of major 
program crises, particularly when they require long-term solutions, 
legislative change, or both. 

In recent years, SSA has taken action to strengthen its research and 
policy development role in these and other areas. It has initiated 
several reorganizations of its policy component to strengthen its 
capacity. The agency has also significantly increased the level of 
staff and resources available to support research activities and has 
several analyses planned or under way to address key policy issues. 
Specific to the long-term solvency issue, SSA's Office of the Actuary 
has long provided key information on the financial outlook of Social 
Security and projections of the effects of different reform proposals 
on trust fund finances. In addition, SSA has expanded its ability to 
use modeling techniques to predict the effects of proposed program 
changes, and it has established a research consortium to conduct and 
advise on relevant research and policy activities. With respect to its 
disability programs, SSA has established a separate disability 
research institute and has submitted to the Congress its first major 
SSI legislative proposal aimed at improving program integrity. 
However, many of the agency's actions and studies are in the early 
stages, and it is not yet clear how the agency will use them and what 
their ultimate effect on SSA program policy will be. 

The Need to Protect Personal Information Has Gained New Urgency: 

The Social Security Administration is responsible for issuing SSNs to 
most Americans.[Footnote 17] The agency relies on the SSN to record 
wage data, maintain earnings records, and efficiently administer its 
benefit programs. In addition, the SSN is used by other government 
agencies as well as the private sector. This widespread use offers 
many benefits; however, combined with an increase in reports of 
identify theft, it has raised public concern over how this and other 
personal information is being used and protected. Moreover, the growth 
of the Internet, which can make personal information contained in 
electronic records more readily accessible to the general public, has 
heightened this concern. Finally, the terrorist attacks of September 
11th and the indication that some of the terrorists fraudulently 
obtained SSNs have added new urgency to the need to assess how SSNs 
are used and protected. 

We have recently testified on work we are completing at the request of 
Chairman Shaw and others to review the many uses of SSNs at all levels 
of government and to assess how these government entities safeguard 
the SSNs.[Footnote 18] We found that SSNs are widely used across 
multiple agencies and departments at all levels of government. They 
are used by agencies that deliver benefits and services to the public 
as a convenient and efficient means of managing records. More 
importantly, these agencies rely on SSNs when they share data with one 
another, for example, to make sure that only eligible individuals 
receive benefits and to collect outstanding debt individuals owe the 
government. Although these agencies are taking steps to safeguard the 
SSNs from improper disclosure, our work identified potential 
weaknesses in the security of information systems at all levels of 
government. In addition, SSNs are widely found in documents that are 
routinely made available to the public, that is, in public records. 
Although some government agencies and courts are trying innovative 
approaches to prevent the SSN from appearing on public records, not 
all agencies maintaining public records have adopted these approaches. 
Moreover, increasing numbers of departments are considering placing or 
planning to place documents that may contain SSNs on the Internet, 
which would make these numbers much more readily available to others, 
raising the risk of their misuse. 

We also found that SSNs are one of three personal identifiers most 
often sought by identity thieves and that SSNs are often used to 
generate additional false documents, which can be used to set up false 
identities. What is harder to determine is a clear answer on where 
identify thieves obtain the SSNs they misuse. Ultimately, in light of 
the recent terrorist events, the nation must grapple with the need to 
find the proper balance between the widespread and legitimate uses of 
personal information such as SSNs, by both government and the private 
sector, and the need to protect individual privacy. 

There are no easy answers to these questions, but SSA has an important 
role to play in protecting the integrity of the SSN. Given the 
widespread use of SSNs, the agency needs to take steps to ensure that 
it is taking all necessary precautions to prevent individuals who are 
not entitled to SSNs from obtaining them. Currently, the agency is 
reexamining its process of assigning SSNs to individuals. This may 
require the agency to find a new balance between two competing goals: 
the need to take time to verify documents submitted during the 
application process and the desire to serve the applicant as quickly 
as possible. In addition, the agency is studying ways to make sure it 
provides accurate and timely information to financial institutions on 
deceased SSN holders. However, once SSA has issued an SSN, it has 
little control over how the number is used by other government 
agencies and the private sector. In this light, we look forward to 
exploring additional options to better protect SSNs with you as we 
complete our ongoing work in this area. 

Concluding Observations: 

We have outlined a number of difficult challenges, most of them 
longstanding, that the SSA Commissioner faces. These are, in general, 
the same challenges we have been highlighting since SSA became an 
independent agency. In some cases, SSA has begun to take positive 
steps to address its challenges. Specifically, SSA's efforts to 
strengthen its research, evaluation, and policy development activities 
show promise. Likewise, SSA has made considerable progress in 
addressing weaknesses in the integrity of the SSI program. However, 
more can be done in these areas. As new pressures inevitably arise 
that will also demand attention from the commissioner and her team, it 
will be important for the commissioner to sustain and expand on the 
agency's actions to date. 

We are particularly concerned, however, about other challenges where 
SSA's efforts to date have fallen short and where the agency faces 
increasing pressures in the near future. The commissioner faces 
crucial decisions on how to proceed on several of these challenges. 
SSA has made disappointing progress on (1) its efforts to improve its 
disability claims process, (2) the need to better integrate return-to-
work strategies into all phases of the disability process, and (3) the 
need to better plan for future service delivery pressures and changes. 
These challenges will be exacerbated by growing workload pressures as 
the baby boom generation ages. After almost a year without a long-term 
leadership structure in place, the commissioner and a SSA team have an 
opportunity to take a fresh look at these longstanding challenges and 
the fundamental issues impeding faster progress in these areas. Again, 
focused and sustained attention to these challenges is vital, as the 
agency is running out of time to make needed changes before the 
expected increases in workload overwhelm its operations. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to 
respond to any questions that you or other member of the subcommittees 
may have. 

Contacts and Acknowledgments: 

For further information regarding this testimony, please contact 
Barbara D. Bovbjerg, Director, or Kay E. Brown, Assistant Director, 
Education, Workforce, and Income Security at (202) 512-7215. 
Individuals making key contributions to this testimony include Michael 
Alexander, Yvette Banks, Daniel Bertoni, Alicia Puente Cackley, Ellen 
Habenicht, Carol Langelier, Valerie Melvin, Angela Miles, Carol Dawn 
Petersen, and William Thompson. 

[End of section] 

Related GAO Products: 

Social Security Reform: 

Social Security: Issues in Evaluating Reform Proposals. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: December 
10, 2001. 

Social Security: Program's Role in Helping Ensure Income Adequacy. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
November 30, 2001. 

Social Security: Evaluating Reform Proposals. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
November 4, 1999. 

SSA's Management Challenges: Strong Leadership Needed to Turn Plans 
Into Timely, Meaningful Action. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
March 12, 1998. 

Social Security Disability Programs: 

Social Security Disability: Disappointing Results From SSA's Efforts 
to Improve the Disability Claims Process Warrant Immediate Attention. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
February 27, 2002. 

SSA Disability: SGA Levels Appear to Affect the Work Behavior of 
Relatively Few Beneficiaries, but More Data Needed. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: January 16, 

SSA Disability: Other Programs May Provide Lessons for Improving 
Return-to-Work Efforts. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: January 12, 

Social Security Disability: SSA Has Had Mixed Success in Efforts to 
Improve Caseload Management. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
October 21, 1999. 

SSA Disability Redesign: Actions Needed to Enhance Future Progress. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, 
D.C.: March 12, 1999. 

SSA Disability: SSA Return-to-Work Strategies From Other Systems May 
Improve Federal Programs. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: July 
11, 1996. 

Supplemental Security Income Program: 

High Risk Series: An Update. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: January 

Supplemental Security Income: Additional Actions Needed to Reduce 
Program Vulnerability to Fraud and Abuse. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
September 15, 1999. 

Supplemental Security Income: Long-Standing Issues Require More Active 
Management and Program Oversight. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
February 3, 1999. 

Supplemental Security Income: Action Needed on Long-Standing Problems 
Affecting Program Integrity. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
September 14, 1998. 

Service Delivery to the Public: 

SSA Customer Service: Broad Service Delivery Plan Needed to Address 
Future Challenges. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
February 10, 2000. 

Information Technology: 

Information Security: Additional Actions Needed to Fully Implement 
Reform Legislation. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: March 6, 

Information Technology: Enterprise Architecture Use Across the Federal 
Government Can Be Improved. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: February 19, 

Information Technology Management: Social Security Administration 
Practices Can Be Improved. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: August 21, 

Information Security: Serious and Widespread Weaknesses Persist at 
Federal Agencies. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
September 6, 2000. 

SSA Customer Service: Broad Service Delivery Plan Needed to Address 
Future Challenges. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
February 10, 2000. 

Social Security Administration: Update on Year 2000 and Other Key 
Information Technology Initiatives. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: July 
29, 1999. 

Information Security: Serious Weaknesses Place Critical Federal 
Operations and Assets at Risk. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
September 23, 1998. 

SSNs and Personal Information: 

Social Security: Government and Commercial Use of the Social Security 
Number Is Widespread. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: 
February 16, 1999. 

[End of section] 


[1] See U.S. General Accounting Office, SSA’s Management Challenges: 
Strong Leadership Needed to Turn Plans Into Timely, Meaningful Action, 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 12, 1998); Social Security Administration: 
Information Technology Challenges Facing the Commissioner, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 
12, 1998); Social Security Administration: Significant Challenges 
Await New Commissioner, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 
20, 1997); Social Security Administration: Effective Leadership Needed 
to Meet Daunting Challenges, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 
12, 1996); and Social Security Administration: Leadership Challenges 
Accompany Transition to an Independent Agency, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 
15, 1995). 

[2] Some DI and OASI benefit recipients have incomes low enough to 
qualify them for SSI, and they, therefore, receive benefits from both 

[3] Other SSA facilities include 10 regional offices, 7 processing 
centers, and 1 data operations center. 

[4] These agencies exist in each state, the District of Columbia, 
Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. 

[5] The state DDS sites employ a total of more than 14,000 staff. 

[6] For more information, see U.S. General Accounting Office, Social 
Security: Issues in Evaluating Reform Proposals, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 10, 

[7] U.S. General Accounting Office, SSA Disability Redesign: Focus 
Needed on Initiatives Most Crucial to Reducing Costs and Time, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, 
D.C.: Dec.20, 1996); SSA Disability Redesign: Actions Needed to 
Enhance Future Progress, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 
12, 1999); and Social Security Disability: Disappointing Results From 
SSA's Efforts to Improve the Disability Claims Process Warrant 
Immediate Attention, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 27, 

[8] [hyperlink,]. 

[9] [hyperlink,]. 

[10] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Administration: 
Update on Year 2000 and Other Key Information Technology Initiatives, 
(Washington, D.C.: July 29, 1999). 

[11] U.S. General Accounting Office, Major Management Challenges and 
Program Risks: A Governmentwide Perspective, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 2001). 

[12] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security: Sustained Effort 
Needed to Improve Management and Prepare for the Future, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 27, 
1993). Also, see [hyperlink,] and [hyperlink,]. 

[13] This document was originally called "2010 Vision" but 
subsequently was renamed "SSA's Service Vision." 

[14] U.S. General Accounting Office, Information Technology 
Management: Social Security Administration Practices Can Be Improved, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: 
August 21, 2001). 

[15] U.S. General Accounting Office, Information Technology: 
Enterprise Architecture Use Across the Federal Government Can Be 
Improved, [hyperlink,] 
(Washington, D.C.: Feb. 19, 2002). 

[16] [hyperlink,]. 

[17] Since 1982, SSA has provided SSNs only to U.S. citizens, 
noncitizens authorized to work in the United States, and noncitizens 
with an approved nonwork reason for needing a number. 

[18] U.S. General Accounting Office, SSNs Are Widely Used by 
Government and Could Be Better Protected, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 29, 

[End of section]