Social Security Disability: Efforts to Improve Claims Process Have Fallen Short and Further Action is Needed Page: 2 of 15
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Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for inviting me here to discuss the challenges the Social
Security Administration (SSA) faces in improving the claims process for its
two disability programs, Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental
Security Income (SSI). Managing its disability caseloads and delivering
high-quality service to the public in the form of fair, consistent, and timely
eligibility decisions in the face of resource constraints has become one of
SSA's most pressing management challenges.' In the last 7 years, SSA has
spent more than $39 million in efforts to test and implement initiatives
designed to improve the timeliness, accuracy, and consistency of its
disability decisions and to make the process more efficient and easier for
claimants to understand.2 These efforts have included initiatives to
improve the initial claims process as well as the process for handling
appeals of denied claims. In addition, the agency has spent at least $71
million in an attempt to develop an automated disability claims process
intended to provide support for its redesign efforts.
Today, I will discuss the results and status of five initiatives included in
SSA's most recent plans to improve the process, SSA's current plans to
develop an electronic disability system, and the implications of SSA's
efforts to date for future success. The information I am providing is based
primarily on recent work we did for this subcommittee.3 (Also see Related
GAO Products at the end of this statement.)
In summary, the results to date from SSA's redesign initiatives have been
disappointing. The agency's two tests of initiatives to improve the initial
claims process produced some benefits; however, both initiatives as tested
would have significantly raised costs, and one would have lengthened the
wait for final decisions for many claimants. As a result, SSA is considering
additional changes to one of these initiatives and has shelved the other.
1 U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Administration: Agency Must Position
Itself Now to Meet Profound Challenges, GAO-02-289T (Washington, D.C.: May 2, 2002).
2 The $39 million includes expenditures for contractor support, travel, transportation,
equipment, supplies, services, and rent. It excludes personnel costs, most of which would
have been incurred processing workloads regardless of redesign projects. It also excludes
the costs incurred for all but one initiative tested or implemented after March 1999, when
the commissioner ended disability process redesign as a separate agency project.
3 U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Disability: Disappointing Results From
SSA's Efforts to Improve the Disability Claims Process Warrant Immediate Attention,
GAO-02-322, (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 27, 2002) and GAO-02-289T.
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United States. General Accounting Office. Social Security Disability: Efforts to Improve Claims Process Have Fallen Short and Further Action is Needed, text, June 11, 2002; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc289743/m1/2/: accessed October 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.