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Social Security Administration: Preliminary Observations on Key Management Challenges

GAO-13-545T Published: Apr 26, 2013. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 2013.
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What GAO Found

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will experience management challenges in four key areas over the next decade.

Human capital. SSA has not updated its succession plan since 2006 although the agency faces an ongoing retirement wave and hiring freeze which will make it difficult to respond to growing workload demands.

Disability program issues. SSA faces ongoing challenges incorporating a more modern concept of disability into its programs, while balancing competing needs to reduce backlogs of initial and appealed claims and ensure program integrity.

Information technology (IT). SSA has made strides in modernizing its IT systems to address growing workload demands, but faces challenges with these modernization efforts--such as an ongoing need to refresh and adhere to its IT strategic plan and a continued reliance on legacy applications--and correcting internal weaknesses in information security.

Physical infrastructure. SSA is moving toward centralized facilities management, but the agency lacks a proactive approach to evaluating its office structure that will identify potential efficiencies, such as consolidating offices.

SSA has ongoing planning efforts, but they do not address the long-term nature of these management challenges. For example, SSA is finalizing a service delivery plan, but it only includes detailed plans for the next 5 years and focuses on existing initiatives rather than articulating specific long-term strategies for the agency's service delivery model. Its current strategic plan also largely describes the continuation, expansion, or enhancement of ongoing activities, rather than proposing broad changes to address emerging issues. Since 2008, SSA has not had an entity or individual dedicated to strategic planning. Various groups have called on SSA to articulate a longer-term strategy, which it last did in 2000, motivated by many conditions which remain true today, such as increasing workloads, advances in technology, and employee retirements, and which will need to be addressed in the future.

Why GAO Did This Study

SSA is responsible for providing benefits and services that affect the lives of nearly every American. In calendar year 2012, SSA paid over 62 million people more than $826 billion in Social Security retirement and disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. However, SSA faces increased workloads and large numbers of potential employee retirements in the long term. A new Commissioner will soon be leading the agency and will face many complicated issues confronting the agency.

In this statement, GAO discusses initial observations from its ongoing review and describes (1) key management challenges SSA faces in meeting its mission-related objectives and (2) the extent to which SSA's planning efforts address these challenges. To examine these issues, GAO reviewed relevant planning documents and reports from SSA and others as well as SSA management information and data on workload and staffing projections, applicable federal laws and regulations, and interviewed SSA headquarters and regional officials, representatives of employee groups, and other experts.

This work is ongoing and GAO has no recommendations at this time. GAO plans to issue its final report in June 2013.

For more information, contact Daniel Bertoni at (202) 512-7215 or

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Strategic planningHuman capital managementDisability benefitsSupplemental security incomeInformation securityPeople with disabilitiesStrategic planDisability programsState employees