Social Security Administration:

Subcommittee Questions Concerning Current and Future Service Delivery Challenges

AIMD/HEHS-00-165R: Published: May 11, 2000. Publicly Released: May 11, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Social Security Administration's (SSA) efforts to prepare its workforce to meet future service delivery challenges, focusing on: (1) SSA's reasons for the 7-year delay in developing a service delivery vision; (2) what SSA's decision not to issue a detailed service delivery plan means for customer service; (3) the differences between a service vision and a service delivery plan; (4) effect the absence of a detailed plan will have on SSA's information technology and its workforce; (5) benefits from SSA's investments in its computer modernization; (6) special challenges SSA will face as a result of the changing needs of its customers; (7) reasons why customers cannot apply for Social Security benefits on-line and the effect on-line applications for benefits will have on SSA's service delivery; and (8) various technology initiatives being implemented.

GAO noted that: (1) a service vision provides broad, guiding principles for future service to the public, takes into account expected changes in the environment and customer needs, and is consistent with SSA's core mission and values; (2) the next step, a service delivery plan, spells out more concretely how SSA will align its organization and resources to turn its vision into reality; (3) such a plan contains more details on how and where SSA will provide services in the future, and who will provide them; (4) the reason for SSA's delay in implementing a service delivery plan is not so clear; (5) in absence of detailed service delivery plans, SSA has not yet made the difficult choices needed to allocate its limited resources to ensure that SSA is adequately prepared to serve its future customers; (6) SSA should base its decisions on investments in information technology and its workforce on a detailed delivery plan; (7) without a well-developed plan, SSA cannot be assured that its investments in human capital and technology, and decisions regarding the use of its many field offices and other facilities, will fully support its vision of service delivery; (8) in the absence of such a plan, SSA has a number of initiatives underway that involve significant investments in information systems and facilities; (9) the benefits from SSA's investments in its computer modernization remain unknown largely because SSA has not previously taken sufficient steps to establish performance measures and to evaluate whether its investments were contributing to tangible, observable improvements in mission performance; (10) changing customer needs represent a dual set of challenges; (11) one set is associated with the increasing number of its customers who expect to conduct business more quickly and conveniently; (12) another set of challenges is presented by new or growing workloads that require extra time or skills to be managed; (13) SSA has not yet developed the applications that would enable its customers to apply for Social Security benefits on-line, although it has recently placed more emphasis on doing so in order to help meet future customer service demands; (14) on-line applications for benefits could facilitate SSA's efforts to provide better and more convenient service in a number of ways; (15) SSA is developing a new electronic disability strategy to address the needs of its disability claims process; (16) GAO has not been able to assess its appropriateness because the strategy is still in its developmental stage; and (17) SSA has not identified all of the technologies required to meet the long-term needs of its hearing offices.

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