SSA Customer Service:

Broad Service Delivery Plan Needed to Address Future Challenges

T-HEHS/AIMD-00-75: Published: Feb 10, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 2000.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) efforts to prepare to meet its future service delivery challenges, focusing on: (1) the extent and seriousness of these challenges; (2) SSA's strategy to meet them; (3) the status of the agency's efforts to use information technology to cope with the challenges; (4) the agency's efforts to prepare its workforce for the future; and (5) the implications of SSA's plans and efforts for its readiness to meet future challenges.

GAO noted that: (1) SSA will be challenged to maintain a high level of service to the public in the next decade and beyond; (2) demand for services is expected to grow significantly, with applications for one of SSA's already-burdened disability programs projected to increase by 54 percent by 2010; (3) moreover, the expectations and needs of SSA's customers are changing; (4) some are expecting faster, more convenient service, while others may require additional assistance from staff with more diverse skills; (5) at the same time, SSA's ability to cope with these changes will be challenged, since the number of SSA employees retiring is expected to peak at the same time that large increases will occur in applications for benefits, according to SSA's Actuary's estimates; (6) SSA is only now beginning to develop a broad vision for customer service for 2010; (7) this broad vision, as well as a more detailed plan spelling out who in the future will be providing what service and where, is needed to help the agency focus its efforts to meet its future challenges; (8) in the meantime, to cope with pending workload increases, the agency is relying in large part on technology to achieve increased efficiencies; (9) however, SSA has had mixed success in implementing information technology initiatives, and the benefits from its technology investments have largely been unclear; (10) on the other hand, SSA's efforts to prepare for the increasing number of retirements from its own workforce and changing customer needs and expectations have shown more promise, although many initiatives are still in their early stages and much work remains; (11) SSA will need to fully assess the skills its workforce will need to serve its future customers, particularly its growing population of disabled beneficiaries and the high proportion of those with mental impairments; (12) SSA will also need to ensure continuity in leadership through ongoing succession planning efforts; (13) finally, without a vision for future service followed by a more detailed service delivery plan, SSA cannot be sure that its investments in technology and human capital--that is, its workforce--are consistent with and fully support its future approach to service delivery; and (14) it will be important for the agency to complete this plan to guide its investments and better position itself to cope with its future challenges.

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