Social Security Administration:

Significant Challenges Await New Commissioner

HEHS-97-53: Published: Feb 20, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 1997.

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Jane L. Ross
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GAO reviewed the challenges facing the new Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA).

GAO found that: (1) SSA is ahead of many federal agencies in developing strategic plans, measuring its service to the public, and producing complete, accurate, and timely financial statements; (2) this gives SSA a sound base from which to manage significant current and future challenges; (3) these challenges include the aging of the baby boom generation, coupled with increasing life expectancy and the declining ratio of contributing workers to beneficiaries, which will place unprecedented strains on the Social Security program in the next century; (4) unless Congress acts, Social Security funds will be inadequate to pay all benefits by 2029; (5) SSA, however, has not preformed the research, analysis, and evaluation needed to inform the public debate on the future financing of Social Security, the most critical long-term issue facing SSA; (6) SSA has recently taken initial steps to more actively participate in the financing debate by reorganizing and strengthening its research, policy analysis, and evaluation activities; (7) also challenging SSA have been disability caseloads that have grown by nearly 70 percent in the past decade; (8) to its credit, SSA has undertaken an important effort to fundamentally redesign its inefficient disability claims process, however, while SSA has begun many of its planned initiatives, none is far enough along for SSA to know whether specific proposed process changes will achieve the desired results; (9) SSA has not sufficiently promoted return-to-work efforts in the administration and design of its disability programs; (10) if even an additional 1 percent of the 6.6 million working-age people receiving disability benefits were to leave SSA's disability rolls by returning to work, lifetime cash benefits would be reduced by an estimated $3 billion; (11) in its Supplemental Security Income program, SSA has not done enough to combat fraud and abuse and address program weaknesses; (12) SSA faces increasing responsibilities in the future and must manage its growing workloads with reduced resources; (13) to successfully meet its workload challenges, SSA knows that it must increasingly rely on technology and build a workforce with the flexibility and skills to operate in a changing environment; (14) SSA faces significant challenges, however, in modernizing its information systems, a complex, multiyear effort that could easily cost billions of dollars; (15) compounding this challenge will be the possible loss of many senior managers and executives; and (16) at this critical juncture, effective leadership is needed so SSA can take actions to better ensure its success in the 21st century.

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