Eligibility Verification and Privacy in Federal Benefit Programs:

A Delicate Balance

HRD-85-22: Published: Mar 1, 1985. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 1985.

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GAO identified 13 issues which it believes Congress, the executive branch, and state and local governments should consider in order to improve internal controls, efficiency, and the protection of privacy in federal benefits programs.

GAO found that, to make accurate decisions relating to verification techniques, legislators should determine: (1) whether uniform verification procedures are possible; (2) how verification techniques should be selected; (3) whether computer matching is indispensable or uncontrollable; (4) solutions to the problems inherent in front-end verification; (5) whether error-prone profiling in selective verification is efficient and fair; and (6) whether more programs should use quality control. GAO also found that, to make accurate decisions relating to verification information, legislators should determine whether: (1) tax return information, which is the most reliable type of data, is available for use; (2) centralized data are vital; (3) data links should be allowed; and (3) the use of social security numbers for identification is useful. To make accurate decisions related to privacy protection, legislators should also determine: (1) what privacy rights individuals have in dealing with agencies; (2) whether data security is adequate or not; and (3) whether privacy policy is the same for all programs. Finally, in looking at eligibility verification and privacy issues, a careful balance is needed between protecting privacy rights and meeting program requirements for verifying data on which eligibility decisions are made by the people who implement or are affected by these laws.

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