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SSA has now automated many of its labor-intensive operations. Many current systems initiatives are enhancements to workloads previously automated or development of entirely new systems such as the representative payee database mandated by the Congress.
Question. What are your plans for your computer system for the next year?
Answer. Computer hardware improvement plans include investments in completing migration to FTS2000; additional computer capacity and data storage capacity to accommodate both existing automation workload growth and new workload automation; increased printer capacity to improve beneficiary notice quality and timeliness; continued automation and communication improvements for the hearings process; and continued feasibility and transition planning for cost-effective backup and recovery capability.
Question. How do these plans match with your agency's operational and financial management needs on a priority basis?
Answer. These plans are consistent with SSA's planning process which integrates all key levels of Agency planning including (1) the Agency Strategic Plan (ASP) which gives longrange strategic direction to supporting shorter term plans, (2) the SSA Information Resources Management (IRM) Plan which defines the long-range resources and activities necessary to carry out all of SSA's information management activities (automated as well as nonautomated) in support of the ASP and (3) the SSA Information Systems Plan which supports the ASP and IRM plans, new legislative requirements, user initiatives and ongoing systems operations. The specific initiatives mentioned above are included in these planning documents and their priority in budget requests reflects the Agency priorities defined in these plans.
Question. What do your field staff believe are the most needed systems advances to help them meet future workloads?
Answer. The SSA field staff believe that the most needed systems advances are ones which allow all employees to access any required data base, master file or national system and to perform local tasks from the same workstation with access to laser printers. Contention for physical access to computer systems would be eliminated and employees could perform the full computer related functions of their jobs from a single location. They are also interested in technological innovations which would reduce the time required by a paper intensive process--examples would be technologies for the storage and retrieval of Agency procedures and expanded fax capability for improved communications.
In general, the field staff want access to hardware and software that allows completion of any customer request with a minimum of call backs, subsequent actions or referrals to other offices to respond to concerns. We are doing many things in response to their needs. Major systems software initiatives are underway, including refinements in the title II claims-taking and adjudication process and the postentitlement online systems. The systems communications, query and input facilities are being
updated and a comprehensive debt management system is being provided.
The modernization of the Supplemental Security Income processes is a major project. SSA is also continuing its automation of its earnings input, adjustment and correction processes. National "800" number-related software is coming online to allow the scheduling of field office appointments through the teleservice centers and to permit the teleservice center representatives to access a national referral directory of other-agency services.
Question. In regard to back-up systems (a) what method does SSA currently use to back-up its most critical data bases for making program payments and serving the public? and (b) how much does this back-up system cost annually?
Answer. SSA creates regular back-up copies of our critical programmatic data bases and production software libraries and sends them for storage in our security storage facility.
SSA has a contract to provide back-up batch processing capabilities. In case of an emergency, the back-up copies of the data bases and software libraries would be used at the vendor's site to provide batch programmatic processing capabilities. contract costs $78,000 annually.
Question. Each year SSA posts hundreds of millions of dollars of wages into its suspense account because it cannot identify the correct wage earner's account for posting. What is SSA doing to reduce the number and amount of wages it cannot post to individual accounts each year? Can IRS help in this regard? In what way?
Answer. SSA has emphasized in a variety of public information and employer educational materials the importance of employers providing their employees' correct Social Security numbers on wage reports to SSA. Public information messages have urged employees to correct any Social Security cards bearing an incorrect name or number. In addition, SSA has appointed a special "Intercomponent Workgroup on Reducing the Earnings Suspense File." This workgroup has just completed a report making several suggestions that will substantially reduce the number of items being placed in the earnings suspense file. These include identifying "problem" employers who file many wage reports with incorrect numbers so they can be provided special assistance to improve their reporting. Another action planned is to pilot the effectiveness of having SSA validate employees' numbers for the payroll of selected employers before they prepare and submit wage reports to SSA. This will allow employers time to correct any erroneous numbers before any wage reports are prepared for the next year.
IRS can help SSA reduce the number of unposted wages in several ways. IRS has already agreed to supply taxpayer identification data from its files for SSA to use in identifying unposted wage reports. In addition, SSA has asked, and IRS has
agreed to enforce current penalties for filing incorrect wage reports in those cases where employers are uncooperative in reducing large numbers of wage reports with incorrect Social Security numbers. SSA will be exploring other ways IRS can help as well--for example, by revising IRS forms and procedures to emphasize the importance of proper reporting.
"800" BUSY RATES
Question. On October 1, 1989, SSA began implementing phase 2 of its national "800" phone service. The very high rate of busy signals experienced by the "800" service necessitated SSA having about 350 local field offices restore their phone service on a temporary basis to relieve the overtaxed "800" service. What immediate steps has SSA taken to bring down the higher rate of busy signals that have been experienced during fiscal year 1991?
Answer. Our immediate efforts to address the high busy rates have been concentrated on increasing call answering capacity, speeding the handling of certain routine calls through the use of an automated script and improving call routing.
Between the months of September and November 1990, 300 teleservice representatives (TSRs) were hired. The new TSRS have been trained and are now answering calls. We have also increased the number of people used as needed to staff backup answering units to provide additional call answering capacity during peak calling periods. Prior to January, we had about 300 technicians staffing two backup answering units. At the beginning of January, we added three units with a total of approximately 300 more technicians. June, we will add a fourth unit with another 100 technicians.
We are currently using an automated script in seven teleservice centers (TSCs) to speed the processing of certain types of routine calls. Callers with push button phones can choose to have simple actions or requests processed without waiting to talk to a TSR. The automated services include, for example, requests for Social Security numbers, monthly benefit amount verification and requests for pamphlets. Approximately 10 percent of the callers that have access to this service use it. Their calls are handled quickly with no recontact necessary. The faster automated handling of these actions allows more calls to be handled which in turn helps to reduce the busy rates.
In January, we also implemented a revised call routing plan which directs calls as close as possible to the area from which they originated. With this more sophisticated plan in effect, we can also better direct calls to locations where representatives are available to serve the public.
SSA TELEPHONE SERVICE
Question. Are you taking any actions of a permanent nature to attempt to curb the high rate of busy signals for the "800" service in the future?
Answer. We continually evaluate ways to improve the "800" number service. Technological initiatives are evaluated and utilized, improved call routing techniques are implemented and
training initiatives are undertaken to improve the quality of service to the public. We are also initiating a study of attrition rates for teleservice representatives in an effort to retain experienced, highly trained employees which increases overall productivity and ensures quality service.
Because of the popularity of the "800" number and the growing demand for telephone service in general, additional representatives are needed to answer the phones if busy rates are to be significantly improved. As part of his request for release of contingency funds, the Secretary asked for additional resources for SSA's "800" number service. The recent release of funds from the contingency reserve will have a significant and positive impact on curbing high busy rates.
Question. What are you doing to determine whether additional staff will continue to be needed to assist the "800" service, including how many staff may be needed and where?
Answer. We evaluate past call volumes, public calling patterns and population growth patterns to develop estimates of the call capacity needed in future years for the "800" number service. Based on these projections, we evaluate the most effective ways to meet the estimated demand. For example, new technology is continually evaluated to provide the most cost effective and productive ways to handle "800" number calls. Staffing needs are also projected as part of this planning effort.
RESTORATION OF TELEPHONE ACCESS TO LOCAL FIELD OFFICES
Question. On November 5, 1990, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 mandated that SSA would restore the level of local office telephone access generally available in September 1989. However, there were no provisions in the Act authorizing additional funding for the restoration of this telephone access.
What are the one-time and recurring costs which will be incurred by SSA in having local telephone companies restore local general inquiry lines and publish the new local office phone numbers and addresses in local phone company directories?
Answer. Recently completed preliminary estimates for one-time and recurring costs to be incurred by restoration by telephone companies of local general inquiry lines and publication in directories of local telephone numbers for offices impacted by section 5110 of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1990 are:
Orders have been placed to list numbers in telephone directories. Complete cost data are not available at this time. These estimates do not include the costs of telephones, worksites or employees.
STAFFING FOR LOCAL TELEPHONE NUMBERS
Question. What are the estimated additional staffing costs which may be incurred by SSA to meet this new legislative mandate?
Answer. Based on recent preliminary estimates from field offices impacted by section 5110 of OBRA 1990, the costs for providing staff to answer general inquiry telephone calls at the level available on September 30, 1989 would be approximately $17 million.
Question. What are the estimated telephone equipment costs the agency would incur in implementing the Act's provisions?
Answer. The preliminary costs estimated for purchasing stateof-the-art telephone equipment, including call sequencers and telephones, for the offices impacted by section 5110 of OBRA 1990 are about $5 million.
Question. How does SSA expect to provide the additional funds to meet these new costs?
Answer. The language of the statute grants considerable flexibility in making the determination as to how best to provide the public with access to local offices at the level that was "generally available" as of September 30, 1989. We do not interpret subsection 5110 (a) as requiring the reinstallation or maintenance of the exact same number of Social Security telephone lines or staff that were available on September 30, 1989.
Likewise, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would cost approximately $1 million for SSA to comply with subsection 5110 (a) and SSA's budget is consistent with this. This clearly suggests that the Congress did not intend that the identical number of telephones or employees as were present on September 30, 1989 be maintained or established.
LISTING OF LOCAL OFFICE PHONE NUMBERS
Question. Last fall Congress passed legislation requiring you to publish in telephone directories local Social Security office numbers, not just the "800" number. How much workload increase do you expect this change to create for local office staff?
Answer. It is impossible at this time to predict the public preference in calling the local office vis-a-vis the "800" number and the impact on workloads in these offices. We expect to conduct studies to determine the impact on the offices as the local numbers are published in the telephone directories.
Question. When do you expect the listing of local office numbers to be fully implemented?
Answer. In December, we initiated action to place orders with local telephone companies to list local office telephone numbers to restore access to the level available on September 30, 1989. All orders will be placed by April 1, but due to the wide-ranging publication schedules of the telephone directories, numbers will not be listed immediately. By April 1992, 92 percent of the