Social Security:

Alternative Wage-Reporting Processes

HRD-90-35: Published: Nov 8, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) received and shared wage information, focusing on: (1) three alternatives to the existing combined annual wage-reporting system; and (2) their potential for improving the wage-reporting process.

GAO found that: (1) the first alternative would modify the existing system by making IRS, rather than SSA, responsible for receiving and processing earnings reports; (2) the second alternative would make use of the Department of Labor's unemployment compensation earnings file to check the wage data submitted to IRS and SSA on a quarterly basis; and (3) the third alternative involved setting up a new wage-reporting entity that would receive and process wage data for IRS, SSA, and states. GAO also found that: (1) although each alternative had advantages, none warranted changing the existing process in the near future; (2) the changes that IRS and SSA were making to the current system would improve the system, but the changes would not occur before 1990 because of time lags associated with reporting, processing, and reconciling the information; (3) the most significant change is in the SSA Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement, which SSA sends to workers who request statements of their earnings; (4) the statements provide a yearly listing of recorded wages and an estimate of various Social Security benefits and give workers the opportunity to clear up any discrepancies; and (5) because only 3 percent of the requests resulted in workers questioning the accuracy of their earnings records, SSA was considering whether to periodically send the statements to all workers.

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