Social Security:

Measure of Telephone Service Accuracy Can Be Improved

HRD-91-69: Published: Aug 30, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1991.

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Jane L. Ross
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the accuracy of information provided to the public through the Social Security Administration's (SSA) toll-free telephone service.

GAO found that: (1) SSA telephone service study results were unreliable, since its study guidelines did not establish clear criteria for evaluating response accuracy and SSA did not record the telephone conversations sampled; (2) it disagreed with SSA ratings of response accuracy on 35 percent of the 260 issues evaluated during 188 jointly monitored phone calls; (3) in six different situations, SSA reviewers inconsistently rated the responses of their teleservice representatives; (4) SSA has redesigned its accuracy study to eliminate the confusion caused by assessing both accuracy and completeness and will require the reviewers to complete each assessment before monitoring the next call; (5) SSA has not fully disclosed to Congress the results of its nationwide accuracy study, and the data it has disclosed have been incomplete and misleading; and (6) SSA lacked a methodology for assessing the accuracy of phone service provided by local field offices, although Congress ordered it to publish local offices' phone numbers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA has not pursued, and does not plan to pursue, with GSA the possibility of recording telephone calls with the public for monitoring purposes. It does not believe recording these calls is necessary.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the SSA methodology for measuring the accuracy of telephone responses, the Commissioner of Social Security should seek General Services Administration approval to record the phone calls it monitors for purposes of assessing the quality of its phone service and evaluating its assessment process. Such recording should take place under strict controls and procedures that protect the public's interest and include the following restrictions as a minimum: (1) recording should be limited to the minimum calls necessary to monitor the quality of service to the public; (2) the caller should be informed that his or her call may be recorded for service monitoring purposes and be given the option to hang up; (3) the recorded information should be properly safeguarded, with access limited to necessary persons; (4) any individual identifying information should be erased from the recording immediately after the assessment is complete; and (5) no written or other records should be kept that would identify the caller so that no records would exist that could be accessed by using individual identifying information.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA's FY 1992 Annual Financial Statement reported information from its revised 800 Number Service Evaluation Monitoring Study. The information included details on the extent of payment and service errors.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should fully disclose to Congress the results of SSA accuracy studies, including reporting on the extent of service errors as well as payment errors.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A pilot study on monitoring field office telephone accuracy was completed and a report of findings forwarded on May 19, 1995. With completion of this study, implementation of an ongoing system is under way.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should develop a methodology for assessing the accuracy of phone service provided by local SSA field office personnel.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration


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