Friday, March 23, 2012

Social Security Administration’s Strategic Plan for 2013-2016 – Part 3 of 4 Part Series

In Part 3 of our Four Part series on SSA’s Strategic Plan for 2013-2016, we will illustrate one of SSA’s most important goals: Preserve the Public’s Trust in Our Programs. Because SSA pays over $60 million dollars in benefits each month, it’s important “to pay the right person the right amount at the right time.” (Agency Strategic Plan 2013-2016, pg 16). This goal is also aligned with the President’s goal of aggressively reducing the improper payments made by federal agencies. (Executive Orders 13520 and 13576).

STRATEGIC GOAL #3: Preserve the Public’s Trust in Our Programs

One of SSA’s biggest responsibilities is proper payment to beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are expected to report any changes that may affect their payment amounts, such as going back to work or obtaining other monetary benefits. However, because SSA has to absolutely make sure “to pay the right person the right amount at the right time,” they have tools in place to help avoid errors. The most important tool is the Continuing Disability Review (CDR), in which a SSD beneficiary is reevaluated periodically to see whether or not they are still disabled and entitled to benefits. SSI claims are also re-determined each year to see whether or not the presence of income and/or resources would end benefits. In order to continue to ensure that proper payments are made, SSA is looking to implementing new tools and automated means to make it easier for claimants to report changes, as well as for SSA employees to update claims as needed. SSA also plans to collaborate with other federal agencies to find innovative ways to detect fraud.

With tools such as the CDR already in place, improper payments can still sometimes occur, especially given the complexity of the disability system. SSA utilizes both internal and external sources to collect monies owed to them. Usually when an improper payment occurs, such as an overpayment, benefits are withheld from the beneficiary in until the debt is paid. When this sort of repayment is not possible, SSA turns to an authorized debt collection agency to recover the lost monies. (please visit for more information on how SSA collects debts). In the upcoming years, SSA plans to maximize these proven methods already used in debt collection. They will also explore new debt collecting tools that will make the process not only more efficient for SSA, but also continue to be compassionate towards claimant’s situations as far as ease of repayments is concerned.

A large portion of what SSA does is based on each individual’s life time work record. Because of this, it is important that the earnings reported to federal and state agencies by employers are completely accurate. More often that not, employers are filing these documents electronically, but as much as 15% of employers still submit paper forms. Not only is it more time consuming to process these forms, but the equipment used to process them is aging and will not be replaced in the future, in favor of the modern electronic system that should be used by all employers. Paper forms are also more error prone, which can result in miscalculations and therefore, improper payments.

The year 2011 was the 18th year in a row that SSA received an unqualified opinion on their fiscal statements. An unqualified opinion is an independent auditor's judgment that a company's financial records and statements are fairly and appropriately presented, and in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). SSA rigorously reviews its business practices to assure they are operating within or below budget. In fiscal year 2013-2016, SSA plans to continue to practices that save money, such as putting more emphasis on using electronic systems rather than using paper. The advent of video teleconference hearings is another way SSA is keeping costs down. In fiscal year 2011, SSA saved $273 million by implementing these strategies and more.

SSA will measure their success with this goal by the number of reviews, disability reviews, and redeterminations that are performed over the upcoming fiscal years. They will also track the percentage of claim payments that are error free as well as the percentage decrease of the use of paper W-2 forms.


Written by Anna Westfall and Attorney Andrew November

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