Request by SSA To Monitor Phone Calls From the Public in Teleservice Centers

HRD-79-62: Published: May 1, 1979. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1979.

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) requested permission from the General Services Administration (GSA) to reactivate the monitoring of incoming public telephone calls to its 31 teleservice centers. The centers assist the public by answering questions on social security matters and by receiving and processing changes in beneficiary status over the telephone. Monitoring took place between 1972 and 1974, but was discontinued when revised regulations required that callers' prior consent be obtained. SSA believed this requirement would require lengthy explanations, would confuse callers, and would impede incoming calls. GSA in 1978 issued regulations to prohibit monitoring devices, but the authority of GSA to prohibit monitoring devices on agencies' telephones is questioned by the agencies. The method now being used by SSA for quality assurance involves a supervisor listening only to an employee's side of the conversation, but this does not measure the response to the caller's questions. Incorrect information could adversely affect a person's benefit status. Under the proposed monitoring plan, SSA officials would like to monitor about 10,000 of the 1 million calls received each month at the centers. The conversations would not be recorded and callers would be given a chance to decline. This would give SSA management an opportunity to evaluate the quality of employees' responses and determine training needs of employees. GAO has concluded that monitoring could help to ensure that accurate information is provided courteously to the public.

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