Social Security Death Data: Additional Action Needed to Address Data Errors and Federal Agency Access

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Description

A letter report issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "The Social Security Administration (SSA) receives death reports from multiple sources, including state vital records agencies (states), family members, and other federal agencies to create its set of death records. In accordance with the Social Security Act (Act), SSA shares its full set of death data with certain agencies that pay federally-funded benefits, for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy of those payments. For other users of SSA's death data, SSA extracts a subset of records into a file called the Death Master File (DMF), which, ... continued below

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United States. Government Accountability Office. November 27, 2013.

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Description

A letter report issued by the Government Accountability Office with an abstract that begins "The Social Security Administration (SSA) receives death reports from multiple sources, including state vital records agencies (states), family members, and other federal agencies to create its set of death records. In accordance with the Social Security Act (Act), SSA shares its full set of death data with certain agencies that pay federally-funded benefits, for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy of those payments. For other users of SSA's death data, SSA extracts a subset of records into a file called the Death Master File (DMF), which, to comply with the Act, excludes state-reported death data. SSA makes the DMF available via the Department of Commerce's National Technical Information Service, from which any member of the public can purchase DMF data. Certain procedures that SSA uses for collecting, verifying, and maintaining death reports could result in erroneous or untimely death information. For example, SSA does not independently verify all reports before including them in its death records. In accordance with its policy, the agency only verifies death reports for Social Security beneficiaries in order to stop benefit payments, and then, verifies only those reports from sources it considers less accurate, such as other federal agencies. GAO identified instances where this approach led to inaccurate data. For example, GAO's analysis of a sample of death records SSA erroneously included in its death data found that these errors may not have occurred if SSA had verified them. In other cases, when data provided do not match SSA's records, SSA typically does not record these deaths. According to federal internal control standards, agencies should conduct risk assessments of factors impeding their ability to achieve program objectives, such as data errors that could result in improper benefit payments. Agency officials told us SSA has not performed such risk assessments, but has initiated work on a full redesign of its death processing system."

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Government Accountability Office Reports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for the U.S. Congress investigating how the federal government spends taxpayers' money. Its goal is to increase accountability and improve the performance of the federal government. The Government Accountability Office Reports Collection consists of over 13,000 documents on a variety of topics ranging from fiscal issues to international affairs.

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  • November 27, 2013

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  • June 12, 2014, 7:50 p.m.

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United States. Government Accountability Office. Social Security Death Data: Additional Action Needed to Address Data Errors and Federal Agency Access, report, November 27, 2013; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc302153/: accessed April 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.