GAO's Views on an Independent Social Security Administration and the Personal Earnings and Benefit Statement

T-HRD-89-23: Published: Jun 2, 1989. Publicly Released: Jun 2, 1989.

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GAO presented its views on S. 216, a bill to make the Social Security Administration (SSA) an independent agency, and S. 1079, a bill to require SSA to provide personal earnings and benefit statements (PEBS) to workers covered by social security. GAO found that: (1) S. 216 would create an independent SSA headed by a three-member bipartisan board, establish a beneficiary ombudsman within SSA, and authorize SSA exemptions from certain budget, personnel, and administrative requirements; and (2) if SSA becomes independent, it will lose cabinet-level sponsorship, possibly affecting its ability to effectively argue against budget cuts and ensure that its programs are effectively integrated. GAO believes that: (1) the best leadership structure for an independent SSA would be a strong single administrator appointed to a fixed 8-year term and assisted by an advisory board for policy matters; (2) the responsibilities of the board, the executive director, and ombudsman need clarification; and (3) it should not be required to perform the contradictory functions of consulting on project implementation and reporting on project effectiveness. GAO also found that PEBS provide people the opportunity to verify the accuracy of their earnings records and resolve any discrepancies, facilitate retirement planning, and help educate the public about social security. GAO believes that Congress should consider the results of ongoing SSA research on PEBS alternatives and costs before legislatively mandating PEBS.

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