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ability to evaluate the performance of field offices and the allocation of staff resources.
Question. Your budget indicates that the additional staff will be used for higher disability workloads and new legislative requirements. Does this suggest that disability work is your top priority?
Answer. The disability area is the one area in which the volume of applications filed as a result of higher filing rates, new legislation, the Zebley court decision and our SSI outreach efforts exceed our ability to keep pace with this workload. Because of significant growth in this area, I would assign high priority to using any additional funds to process these claims and curtail the rate of growth in the pending workloads.
SSI OUTREACH ACTIVITIES
Question. The 1990 appropriations included $3.5 million for outreach activities, and the 1991 appropriation added an additional $6 million for this activity. The Congress intended these funds to be used primarily for projects targeted to areas with high levels of non-participation in the SSI program including rural areas. You have asked for only $3 million in 1992, half the current level. What are your plans for using the $6 million for outreach activities in 1991 and the additional $3 million in 1992?
Answer. Before we spend $6 million in FY 1991 we want to make sure we are funding projects that are likely to succeed. We are reviewing the proposals we received in response to our FY 1990 grant announcement, with an eye toward what we have already learned from our FY 1990 experience.
Once I am satisfied we will get meaningful results, we will fund new cooperative agreements to target needy populations with high levels of nonparticipation in SSI and in areas of limited accessibility due to rural location or language barriers.
We also are exploring what can be done to deliver truly integrated services with other Federal agencies that provide services to the needy, to develop models of outreach to underserved populations.
Some of the $6 million appropriated for FY 1991 will be used as requested by this Committee for an independent evaluation of outreach, to determine the outreach approaches most effective in addressing the barriers to participation in the SSI program.
Our FY 1992 request includes $3 million to fund additional SSI outreach demonstration projects and to support fully the existing cooperative agreements.
INDEPENDENT EVALUATION OF OUTREACH
Question. When will you award a contract for the independent evaluation and when do you expect to see the results of that evaluation?
Answer.' The Coinnittee directed that SSA use no less than 5 percent --$300,000--of the $6 million appropriated for outreach for an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of various outreach methods.
We are exploring options for obtaining an independent evaluation and expect to have an agreement this summer. As a precursor, we also plan to validate our project evaluation strategy via a separate preliminary review.
The duration of the project is controlling as to when evaluation results will be available. The first SSI outreach demonstration projects were awarded at the end of September 1990. The initial results from the projects of shortest duration will not be available for study until December 1991. We will need an ongoing evaluation agreement so the results of the later projects may be factored into the analysis. Projects awarded in FY 1991 will begin later this year, and the results of those projects will not be available for analyzing until sometime in FY 1993.
We hope to have an interim evaluation report on the first group of completed projects in April 1992, 3 months after the grantees' final reports are due to SSA. We anticipate having the evaluation results updated at the close of every major group of projects, and we should receive the final report within 3 months after the end of the last project.
. We are doing ongoing monitoring of results ourselves, and we will have preliminary data available for decision making regarding funding of FY 1991 and FY 1992 activities.
DELAYED OBLIGATION OF FUNDS
Question. Your budget includes bill language to withhold $80 million from obligation until September 19, 1992-- just 12 days before the end of the fiscal year. Would this delayed obligation of funds be limited to computer and other equipment costs, or are you considering holding back on staffing costs?
Answer. If the full request is enacted, we intend to meet the planned full-time equivalent levels during FY 1992; therefore, the budget estimates assume no delay in obligations for personnel expenses.
Question. How much money is normally not obligated until the last 12 days of the fiscal year?
Answer. About $73.4 million of obligations were incurred during the last 12 calendar days of FY 1990. This includes $70 million of payroll costs for the 8 work days that fell during the last 12 calendar days and $3.4 million for other objects.
CENTRAL COMPUTING STRATEGY
Question. I understand that the Social Security Administration (SSA) currently processes all claims data through a computer system at the National Computer Center (NCC). All of your field offices are dependent on this mainframe computer, and no
claims can be processed in the event of an NCC disaster until the system is restored or replaced.
According to a recent Inspector General report, there is a significant danger in relying on this type of centralized computer system. SSA's own 1982 Systems Modernization Plan stated that should a major disaster occur at the NCC, "untold billions of dollars could be lost as a result of SSA'S computer and communications systems being out of commission for up to a year."
What plans do you have to upgrade the agency's computer architecture so that there is an adequate back-up system in an emergency?
Answer. A contractor has prepared a cost-benefit analysis on different alternatives that would provide a second data center for SSA with sufficient computer processing capabilities to process SSA's most critical payment-related workloads in an emergency. This analysis is under review and decisions are expected in several months.
Question. You are proposing a $30 million increase in automation activities, at the same time that large backlogs are building up in disability claims, and the public is getting busy signals when it calls your "800" number. Why shouldn't some of these automation investments be postponed, until basic services to the public are under better control?
Answer. The thrust of the additional $30 million in information technology systems investments will improve the levels of service to the public. Further automation and modernization in activities such as hearings and Supplemental Security Income will enable SSA employees to keep up with growing workloads and process applications in a more timely and accurate manner.
Improvements to the "800" number telephone network will also reduce busy rates and queue time. Such improvements include a remote management center to consolidate all "800" number management information to permit faster reaction to traffic bottlenecks; upgrade of automatic call distribution equipment; and expansion of telephone service to support additional answering positions so that the "800" number will be able to handle more calls with available teleservice operators and, thus, give better access to the public.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SYSTEMS
Question. Several years ago funds were earmarked specifically for automated data processing and telecommunication activities. In 1990, the Congress approved the Social Security Administration's request to rescind the earmark in order to provide the Social Security Administration with more flexibility to allocate resources to automated data processing and telecommunication activities within the total amount appropriated. Now you are asking that a minimum floor of $260 million of the amounts from the LAE account be made available for these activities in 1992.
Won't this have the reverse effect and limit the Social Security Administration's flexibility to reallocate those resources which might not be used for automated data processing (ADP) and telecommunication activities, to other critical areas in fiscal 1992?
Answer. We have requested this earmark to underscore our commitment to continuing to modernize SSA's data processing equipment and to automate many tasks which are now performed manually.
Question. Will your investments in 1991 and 1992 result in significant workyear savings in 1992 or 1993?
Answer. SSA's ITS investments will ensure that our systems expand as needed to support growing workloads, and they will lay the foundation for future efficiencies required to offset workload growth and improve public service.
SSA's FY 1992 budget request reflects about 1,100 workyears of savings over the 2-year period, FY 1991 and FY 1992, related to management, procedural and systems initiatives. This includes about 400 workyears of savings related to further enhancement of our modernized claims system and modernized enumeration system, resulting primarily from earlier investments in modernized hardware and software.
SSA is continuing to pursue other areas of modernization which will pay off in the future in terms of improved service and increased efficiency. For example, we have accelerated the schedule for modernization of the SSI claims system in a mainframe environment, with software development continuing in FY 1991 and pilot testing of the modernized initial claim-taking system planned for FY 1992. When completed, this system will provide for taking and processing SSI claims using online interactive data collection, computations and automated workload control functions which parallel those developed for title II Social Security program claims.
NEED FOR SUPPLEMENTAL TO PROCESS DISABILITY CASES
Question. By the end of fiscal 1991, you are projecting a backlog of 553,000 disability cases. That compares to 293,000 pending cases in December of 1989--an increase of 260,000 cases. This means it will take an average of 16 weeks, instead of 8 weeks, to get a determination from the Social Security Administration on eligibility for disability benefits.
How much would be needed to reduce the fiscal 1991 backlog down to the level of December 1989? Why didn't the administration request a supplemental to address this problem?
Answer. We developed our estimate of 741,614 Social Security and ssI disability cases pending in field offices at the end of FY 1991 based on the assumption that the contingency reserve for FY 1991 would not be released. Based on this estimate, to return to the December 1989 level of 429,542 cases would require ssa to clear 312,072 cases. The FY 1990 agency unit cost, based on the field office count, for processing Social Security and SSI claims to
completion runs roughly $442 per claim. Based on this information, the additional cost of appeals, and built-in unit cost increases, we estimate the cost of returning FY 1991 end-of-year disability pending cases to the levels of December 1989 would require approximately $200 million.
We have not requested a supplemental to address this problem because we have requested release of contingency funds to assist us in processing this increasing workload. Release of $100 million from the contingency reserve will enable us to curtail the growth of this increasing workload.
FUNDING FOR THE DISABILITY STATE AGENCIES
Question. If you exclude the resources requested for the State agencies for the Zebley supplemental, the table on page 102 of your budget request shows the State agency budget is being increased by nearly 9 percent in 1992--$868 million in 1992 compared to $800 million in 1991. This is a significant increase. However, you may say that the number of disability claims pending in the State agencies at the end of fiscal 1992 will increase by more than 80 percent from the level pending at the end of fiscal 1990. With resources going up, why will the backlogs grow?
Answer. Increasing State agency costs reflect only a portion of the significant growth expected in SSA's disability workloads in FY 1991 and FY 1992. In spite of the increases projected in processed workloads in FY 1991 and FY 1992 for the Disability Determination Services, receipts are expected to increase at an even greater rate. The rapid rate in filing plus the increased Zebley cases and the prospect of implementing new regulations will make backlogs unavoidable. Even with productivity improvements and increased resources for the Disability Determination Services, pending workloads area expected to increase significantly.
Question. Is bringing down the backlogs a question of money, management or technology?
Answer. In addition to the increased funding SSA has requested, enhanced management and technology will help to avoid a build up in disability backlogs.
As I indicated, additional resources have been requested for the Disability Determination Services to fund mandatory cost increases, and to enable them to process more cases. However, in spite of the increases projected in processed workloads, receipts are expected to increase at an even greater rate, thereby making higher backlogs unavoidable.
Technology has played a role in helping the Disability Determination Services control backlogs in recent years, and additional funding has been requested in FY 1992 for automated data processing equipment and services for the State agencies.
Finally, SSA will continue to work with the States towards improving productivity and controlling medical costs.