Social Security:

Telephone Access to Local Field Offices

HRD-91-112: Published: Sep 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1991.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO provided information on the: (1) changes in the number of available telephone lines and staffing at certain Social Security Administration (SSA) offices between September 1989 and May 1991; and (2) status of SSA actions to implement the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 (OBRA) which requires SSA to maintain the public's telephone access to local offices at the level generally available on September 30, 1989.

GAO found that: (1) while SSA has maintained local office general inquiry telephone service, some offices have fewer lines and less staff available to handle telephone inquiries than on September 30, 1989; (2) reductions in both staffing and telephone equipment occurred in conjunction with the SSA overall downsizing program and because SSA planned to convert its telephone service entirely to a national 800 telephone service; (3) SSA has placed orders with local telephone companies requesting them to publish the office telephone numbers and addresses for phase 2 offices; (4) SSA advised local field offices to have at least one general inquiry line available to the public and to take steps to handle all calls from the public and not redirect the callers to the toll-free service; (5) SSA does not plan to increase local field office staff or to install additional telephone lines or equipment to bring local field offices up to the September 1989 level, since SSA has taken the position that the OBRA language is broad enough to allow it some flexibility in determining how many staff and telephone lines it needs to provide the public with access to local offices at the level generally available on September 30, 1989; and (6) while SSA implementation meets the OBRA technical requirements, SSA risks longer-term public service problems because it ignores the possibility that the volume of general inquiry calls to offices with reduced call-handling capacity will exceed some offices' capabilities, thus degrading service to the public.

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