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Since 1980, Congress has required the Social Security Administration (SSA) to conduct demonstration projects to test the effectiveness of possible changes to its Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs that could decrease individuals' dependence on benefits or improve program administration. However, in 2004, GAO reported that SSA had not used its demonstration authority effectively. This follow-up report assesses (1) how SSA has used its demonstration authority to test DI and SSI program changes and what information these efforts have yielded and (2) what steps SSA has taken to improve the planning and management of its demonstration projects. To do this, GAO reviewed documents related to SSA's demonstration project management and the steps it took to implement the recommendations in the 2004 report, as well as the projects' designs, evaluations, and costs. GAO also interviewed officials from SSA, its contractors and project sites, and disability experts.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Social Security Administration 1. To improve SSA's management of its demonstration projects the Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Retirement and Disability Policy to establish written policies, procedures, and mechanisms for managing and operating its demonstration projects that are consistent with standard research practices and internal control standards in the federal government, including those for coordinating with internal and external stakeholders and sharing information with Congress.
Closed - Implemented
SSA noted existing processes and written procedures for managing and reviewing its programs, including the demonstration project program. The agency agreed with the need to develop a guidebook to assist staff in the design, implementation, and evaluation phases of demonstration projects and the value of piloting demonstration projects before proceeding with full implementation. In May 2011, SSA provided GAO with a copy of its revised "Demonstration Project Guidebook," which outlines the agency's policies, procedures, and mechanisms for managing and operating its demonstrations projects. GAO determined that it was consistent with research practices and GAO standards and that the guidebook addressed our recommendation regarding coordinating with internal and external stakeholders.

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