Supplemental Security Income:

Long-Standing Issues Require More Active Management and Program Oversight

T-HEHS-99-51: Published: Feb 3, 1999. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 1999.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, focusing on: (1) the problem areas that currently pose the greatest risk to the SSI program; (2) the Social Security Administration's (SSA) recent efforts to improve the SSI program; and (3) additional actions that should be taken.

GAO noted that: (1) the SSI program suffers from program abuses and mismanagement, increases in overpayments, and SSA's inability to recover outstanding debt; (2) in February 1997, GAO designated SSI a high-risk program because of its susceptibility to fraud, waste, and abuse, and because of insufficient management oversight of the program; (3) to a great extent, SSA's inability to address long-standing SSI program problems is attributable to two underlying causes: (a) an organizational culture that places a greater priority on processing and paying claims than on controlling program expenditures; and (b) a management approach characterized by SSA's reluctance to fulfill its SSI policy development and planning role in advance of major program crises; (4) as a result, SSA has continued to experience significant difficulties with regard to verifying recipients' initial and continuing eligibility for benefits, recovering SSI overpayments, combating program fraud and abuse and providing adequate program direction; (5) since SSI was designated high risk, SSA has taken a number of actions to improve the financial integrity of the program and revise its traditional approach to program management; (6) however, several of SSA's initiatives are now in the early planning or implementation stages, or require the passage of new legislation before they can move forward; (7) in other areas, SSA's actions have been insufficient; and (8) thus, it is important that SSA sustain and expand its efforts to address problem areas and strike a balance between meeting the needs of SSI recipients and fiscal accountability for its programs.

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