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Highlights

In 2002, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued nearly 6 million new Social Security numbers (SSNs), of which 1.3 million were issued to noncitizens. Despite its narrowly intended purpose, the SSN has in practice become the national identifier. SSNs are key pieces of information in creating false identities, underscoring the importance of issuing SSNs only to those eligible for them and of protecting those already assigned to individuals. The flow of noncitizens into the United States and the accompanying number of SSNs issued to them over the last several years add to the importance of having sound practices to avoid issuing SSNs to those who do not qualify for them. Congress asked GAO to describe and assess SSA's key initiatives to ensure the appropriate issuance of SSNs to noncitizens and identify vulnerabilities to error or fraud SSA has not yet addressed.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Social Security Administration To strengthen the integrity of SSA's policies and procedures for enumerating noncitizens, the Commissioner of Social Security should perform systematic reviews of field office compliance with verification requirements for enumerating noncitizens and identify corrective actions needed to ensure maximum effectiveness of this process.
Closed - Implemented
The Social Security Administration (SSA) took several actions to perform systematic reviews of field office compliance with verification requirements. SSA (1) issued an Emergency Message to all field staff that explained the new verification policy; (2) conducted broadcast interactive video training on enumeration policies; (3) expanded a program the SSA New York region developed for processing SSN applications nationwide, which improved service delivery and helped field offices control workloads; and (4) improved the automated management information system so that employee compliance could be monitored and potential weaknesses could be identified. The agency also made field office compliance with verification requirements a part of an on-going quality review of enumeration activities, as well as the agency's Comprehensive Integrity Review Process to make improvements when problems are identified.
Social Security Administration To strengthen the integrity of SSA's policies and procedures for enumerating noncitizens, the Commissioner of Social Security should enhance the Modernized Enumeration System to prevent staff from issuing SSNs without following required verification procedures.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our report, SSA agreed to modify the Modernized Enumeration System (MES), and would consider such modifications as part of its Long Term Enumeration Fraud initiative. In the nearer term, it would make programming changes to MES in 2005, which would interrupt the card production process whenever the system detected problems: at that point, a card would not be produced until an investigation was concluded. On March 1, 2005, SSA mandated Field Office use of the SS-5 Assistant for most SSN applications. The SS-5 Assistant works with SSA's Modernized Enumeration System (MES) and, in effect, implements SSA's policies and verification procedures for enumerating noncitizens. The SS-5 Assistant helps the interviewer in properly documenting the interview and evidence in accordance with policy through more structured screens and questions. As part of the application process, the SS-5 Assistant will also automatically query the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system used to verify immigration documents and status. As of April 2007, 98 percent of SSN transactions were processed using the SS-5 Assistant. SSA is also currently developing the Social Security Number Application Process (SSNAP), an automated SSN assignment system that will replace and incorporate the same functionality as the SS-5 Assistant and MES. Phase one of SSNAP is expected to be implemented some time at the end of fiscal year 2009.
Social Security Administration To strengthen the integrity of SSA's policies and procedures for enumerating noncitizens, the Commissioner of Social Security should develop and implement a structured evaluation plan to assess the initial operation of the EAE initiative and identify SSA, State Department, and DHS business process changes needed to expand EAE to additional groups of noncitizens. For the initial phase of EAE, this evaluation should determine the accuracy of SSN issuance decisions and causes of operational weaknesses. To assist SSA in moving forward on EAE expansion, the assessment should identify categories of noncitizens to which EAE can and should be expanded as well as additional data collection and changes to automated systems that will be needed by all three participating agencies.
Closed - Implemented
SSA conducted a study to assess the accuracy of the Enumeration at Entry (EAE) process and identified several changes that were needed. The SSA Inspector General also issued a report on the EAE process. The first of these reports noted higher error rates in the EAE program compared to the regular enumeration process and both studies made recommendations for improving the EAE process. For example, both studies found that the EAE process is more prone to multiple SSN issuances than the regular enumeration process. Recommendations were made to SSA, Homeland Security and the Department of State. SSA and State officials agreed to explore expansion of EAE to three additional nonimmigrant groups.
Social Security Administration To strengthen the integrity of SSA's policies and procedures for enumerating noncitizens, the Commissioner of Social Security should evaluate the Brooklyn Social Security Card Center to assess the feasibility of expansion to other locations and interaction with SSA's other initiatives to improve the integrity of SSN issuance to noncitizens. This should include an assessment of the (1) need and role of possible future centers in relation to the agency's plans to expand EAE; (2) accuracy of SSN issuance decisions, its value as a fraud detection and prevention tool, and its impact on surrounding field office workloads; and (3) the costs and benefits of how such centers would function without DHS staff on-site.
Closed - Implemented
SSA reported that as of March 2005, a report was issued to the Deputy Commissioner for Operation that assessed the feasibility of expanding enumeration centers to other parts of the country. SSA reported that, based on data from the report, the agency opened an additional enumeration center in Las Vegas, Nevada and will open more as resources permit.
Social Security Administration To strengthen the integrity of SSA's policies and procedures for enumerating noncitizens, the Commissioner of Social Security should revise its requirement for verification of the birth records of U.S. citizens who apply for an SSN to require third-party verification of the birth records of children under age 1.
Closed - Implemented
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has implemented the requirement of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which states that SSA independently verify any birth records submitted by an individual to establish eligibility for a Social Security account number, other than for purposes of enumeration at birth. SSA now verifies birth records of all individuals seeking an original or replacement Social Security card.
Social Security Administration To strengthen the integrity of SSA's policies and procedures for enumerating noncitizens, the Commissioner of Social Security should reassess SSA's policies for issuing replacement Social Security cards and develop options for deterring abuse in this area.
Closed - Implemented
The The Social Security Administration (SSA) has implemented the requirement of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which limits the number of replacement Social Security cards issued to an individual to 3 per year and 10 for the life of the individual.

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