The Agency's Relationship With the Office of Management and Budget Since Becoming an Independent Agency

HEHS-98-235R: Published: Aug 26, 1998. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 1998.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) dealings with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) since it became an independent agency, focusing on: (1) SSA's current practices when dealing with OMB on budget, legislative, and policy matters; and (2) whether these current practices are in compliance with the law.

GAO noted that: (1) since becoming an independent agency, SSA has continued to work with OMB on all budget, legislative, and policy matters; (2) according to SSA officials, two key differences in SSA's relationship with OMB since independence are: (a) the agency now works directly with OMB rather than going through the Department of Health and Human Services and (b) the President is now required to submit the Commissioner's budget for SSA to Congress along with the President's own budget; (3) during the annual budget process, SSA receives guidance from OMB to help it prepare a budget proposal; (4) once approved by OMB, SSA's budget is transmitted to Congress as part of the President's budget; (5) SSA continues to submit its legislative and regulatory proposals and testimonies to OMB for review prior to publication; (6) OMB officials told GAO that OMB's relationship with SSA is similar to that of other agencies within the executive branch of the government; (7) SSA's independence gives the agency more visibility within the executive branch and allows it to express agency concerns and views directly to OMB and Congress; (8) SSA officials told GAO that the budget provision in SSA's independence law, which requires the Commissioner to identify his budget needs separately in the President's budget, strengthens the agency's position in budget negotiations with OMB; (9) SSA officials believe that the agency's current relationship with OMB complies with the law; (10) these officials believe that, even though SSA is independent, it is still part of the executive branch; (11) therefore, SSA still needs to obtain OMB clearance when promulgating regulations, presenting testimony, and making legislative recommendations; (12) GAO agrees that SSA is not constrained by the independence legislation from submitting its regulations, testimony, and legislative recommendations to OMB; (13) GAO agrees with OMB and SSA officials that SSA's budget presentation, prepared in consultation with OMB and as submitted by the President, complies with the independence law and the federal budget process; (14) even so, Congress has other options should this information not satisfy its needs; (15) the budget provision in SSA's independence law is intended to provide information to Congress on SSA's budget needs, yet in practice the information provides a brief summary only and omits detail; and (16) if Congress would like more detailed or different information on SSA than what appears in the President's budget submission, the law authorizes Congress to obtain this information directly from SSA.

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