SSA Disability Redesign:

More Testing Needed to Assess Feasibility of New Claim Manager Position

HEHS-96-170: Published: Sep 27, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) establishment of the disability claim manager (DCM) position, focusing on: (1) SSA efforts to test and implement the position; (2) major concerns about the position; and (3) SSA efforts to staff the position.

GAO found that: (1) as envisioned by SSA, DCMs would be solely responsible for processing and approving initial disability claims, assume functions currently performed by at least three federal and state workers, and serve as a single, personal point of contact for claimants; (2) SSA has several initiatives under way to team claims representatives and disability examiners so that they can coordinate claims processing functions and prepare for transition to the DCM position; (3) although it has not yet implemented other initiatives and support features that are critical to the DCM position, SSA has decided to proceed with plans to test the DCM position; (4) a three-phase testing plan proposed by an SSA work group of management representatives, claims representatives, disability examiners, and federal and state union members may leave some important DCM features untested and does not have the support of all work group members; (5) concerns raised about the DCM position include the complexity of DCM responsibilities, compromises to safety and controls, salary differential between federal and state workers, and impact on field operations; and (6) SSA expects to recruit DCMs from its current staff of federal claims examiners and state disability examiners, but some staff may be unwilling or lack the necessary skills, and SSA has not developed a plan for providing technical and clerical support for DCMs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA completed a test of the predecision interview (PDI) as part of its full process model test, which was a test of several combined changes to the disability claims process. Preliminary results showed that the PDI led to appropriate allowances that, in the absence of the PDI, would have been made only after appeal. Based on these results, the agency has decided to incorporate the PDI (now called the claimant conference) into a 10-state prototype, that again combines it with other new features. Three of the ten states also include the DCM concept in the prototype.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should assess current efforts to test the DCM position, so as to ensure that SSA is provided with the best possible information for making future decisions about the position. Specifically, the Commissioner should include, in the test of the DCM position, a personal predecision interview that provides an opportunity for claimants to meet with DCM in person, by video conference, or by telephone.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has been superseded by more current recommendations in HEHS-99-25 regarding the need to test promising concepts in an integrated fashion and develop measures to assess and monitor changes to the disability claims process.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should continue testing of sequential interviewing, Early Decision List, and model site initiatives throughout the DCM test. This testing and subsequent evaluations should document the extent to which the DCM position and the other initiatives increase service to the public and decrease processing time. At the end of the initial 18-month testing period and, if appropriate, at subsequent decision points, SSA should compare the evaluation results of the DCM and other initiatives with respect to their relative benefits and costs. SSA should consider these results before deciding to increase the number of DCM test positions and before approving the DCM position permanently.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration


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