Supplemental Security Income:

Organizational Culture and Management Inattention Place Program at Continued Risk

T-HEHS-98-146: Published: Apr 21, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 1998.

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GAO discussed the needed changes in the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, focusing on SSA's efforts to: (1) verify recipients' initial and continuing eligibility for benefits; (2) deter and collect SSI overpayments; and (3) address SSI program fraud and abuse.

GAO noted that: (1) the SSI program is at considerable risk of waste, fraud, and mismanagement because of an agency culture that has tended to view the SSI program in much the same way as SSA's title II programs--which place emphasis on making payments to an entitled population--rather than as a welfare program that requires stronger income and asset verification policies; (2) because of this culture, SSA has often relied heavily on applicants to self-report important eligibility information, which it has tried to validate with untimely and incomplete verification processes; (3) SSA also continues to lack essential collection tools to pursue SSI overpayments once they are identified and has not made fraud detection and prevention an agencywide workload priority; (4) thus, annual SSI overpayments have increased steadily, program abuses continue to occur, and the gap between overpayments recovered by SSA each year and what is owed the program continues to grow; (5) as outstanding SSI overpayment debt has mounted, annual SSI write-offs have increased; (6) since 1989, SSA has written off more than $1.8 billion in SSI overpayments; (7) these write-offs represent overpaid taxpayer dollars that SSA will probably not recover; (8) more recently, SSA management has focused increasing attention on addressing some of its long-standing SSI program problems and intends to develop a SSI action plan in accordance with the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which provides agencies with a new uniform framework with which to develop their plans and monitor progress; (9) however, many of SSA's initiatives are still in the planning or early implementation stages, and SSA still lacks a comprehensive long-term strategy for improving SSI program performance; and (10) thus, GAO's concerns about underlying SSI program vulnerabilities remain.

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