Page images

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.


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:

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

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.


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.


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

numbers will be published and 100 percent will be available by January 1993.

Because of the delay in publishing directories, we have requested directory assistance to provide the local numbers as soon as possible. By July 1991, about 97 percent of the local numbers will be available through directory assistance.


Question. Your report on service indicators is somewhat vague about the accuracy of information given over the national "800" service network. In last year's testimony, you referred to a national quality assurance program to capture such information, begun in October 1989. What can you tell us about the accuracy of information the public receives over the "800" number?

Answer. As part of SSA's continuing effort to improve "800" number service to the public, we are conducting an ongoing evaluation of the accuracy of the information provided. The latest results of our monitoring indicate that less than 3 percent of SSA responses to all calls involved the potential to adversely affect payment of benefits or eligibility. Note that the accuracy rate is a percentage of all calls. Per our work with the General Accounting Office, we will be separating all calls into 2 categories -- those that could affect payment and those that do not, We will then be able to provide the accuracy rate as a percent of all calls, as well as a percent of only those calls affecting payment.

In addition, we are not yet satisfied that we have achieved an assessment process that is as consistent as possible among monitors throughout the nation. We are actively pursuing modifications to study procedure which we believe will provide more uniform results and better corrective action for the components being evaluated.


Question. The OIG issued a report showing that SSA modernized its claims processing system allowing about 10,000 employees to have direct access to all the key functions in the system without implementing sufficient automated controls to replace separation of duties eliminated in the process. According to the OIG, without sufficient preventive controls to ensure that the actions taken are appropriate and correct, the system is vulnerable to fraud, waste, and abuse. What additional controls does SSA plan to implement to compensate for the lack of separation of duties in the claims process?

Answer. Release 2.7 of the modernized claims system (MCS), scheduled for September 1991, will have the capability of identifying the personal identification number (PIN) holders who were substantially involved in processing any particular claim. SSA's integrity review case selection will focus primarily on cases where only one PIN holder was involved.

Release 2.8, to be issued after September 1991, will expand the MCS interface with master file information to compare applicantsupplied identifying information for each auxiliary and survivor

claimant to master file records. The purpose is to generate a systems control alert if the information does not match. Only management officials will have the capability to override the alert.

This release will also expand the MCS death interface to compare death information from master files for all claimants. Payments will be prevented until death information discrepancies are resolved.


Question. Another OIG report showed that based on a phone call, SSA employees reinstate payment to beneficiaries that were suspended because checks were undeliverable. This is done without verifying that the phone caller is the beneficiary or ensuring that the beneficiary is alive. Some payments made based on these phone calls are for thousands of dollars. Since SSA did not agree that compensating controls are necessary, what does SSA plan to do to correct the potential for fraud ?

Answer. SSA has had policy and procedures for addressing this in its operating guides for several years. SSA requires verification of all entitlement factors before reinstating benefits, verification of address and/or direct deposit data before reinstatement following a nonpayment status of 9 months or more, and verification of address and/or direct deposit information if a report of a change is received from a third party.


Question. The OIG did a review of SSA's processing of beneficiary death alerts and found that during a 3 month period over $34 million in payments to deceased beneficiaries were made because SSA didn't take timely action on death alerts. In addition, about 19,000 field employees can change or delete death alerts and at the same time improperly redirect payments. What action has been taken to correct this problem?

Answer. OIG indicated that the reason for delays was that personnel were not following operating guide procedures. Each of our 10 regional offices has assigned a "death match coordinator" who is responsible for monitoring compliance with procedural instructions for processing death alerts.

Although OIG recommended that SSA authorize only nonsupervisory management to delete or change death alert information, SSA did not agree that non-supervisory personnel is the best control point. SSA is developing procedures which will require regional security officers to use death alerts to monitor changes and deletions.


Question. The OIG recently completed a review of problems associated with posting earnings to Social Security records because of the worker's name or Social Security number. This is a serious problem because if earnings are not posted, workers do not receive credit for work that could eventually entitle them to Social

Security benefits or that may affect the amount of their benefits. The review showed that SSA's systems are only marginally effective in resolving the problems. The OIG made 29 recommendations that should substantially improve SSA's capability for posting these earnings.

What action does SSA plan to take to improve the posting of workers' earnings?

Answer. We feel very keenly the responsibility to post earnings accurately, and we are always striving to do it better. We realize some of the methods for resolving Social Security number and name errors in wage reporting have shortcomings, and we are making improvements. One of our major initiatives in this area is the earnings modernization project. We are including systems enhancements to resolve some of the problems.

We agree with the OIG recommendations. In fact, a workgroup we set up earlier presented similar ideas. Some of the actions we taking to implement them are:


designing improved correspondence forms to elicit better
responses from employers and employees;

evaluating our present computer applications to be sure the
system is working efficiently;

electronically processing workloads that were done manually-for example, the Zoning Improvement Plan (ZIP) Code exception workload;

setting up tighter controls for transmitting earnings tapes, minimizing the chances that data will be posted late;


screening undeliverable mail sent to employees and employers so that it can be re-routed quickly; and

[ocr errors]

expanding our public education program to make more people
aware of how important it is to report accurate earnings.


Question. SSA's "800" telephone system has been the focus of much congressional interest stemming from complaints from the public. The OIG recommended that SSA consolidate its "800" centers to give SSA flexibility with staffing and technology for service improvements. Documentation on planning efforts at SSA indicated that it was aware of the advantages of physically consolidating small centers into fewer sites with larger staffs. Therefore, what steps has SSA taken to consolidate small centers into larger ones and what time frame has been established for completion of the consolidation?

Answer. Planning is underway at the executive level within SSA to develop a framework for delivering "800" number service in the next 3-5 years. The workgroup is considering the best ways to provide staffing flexibility, maximize the use of technology and improve productivity. As part of this effort, the workgroup is evaluating the impact of changes on costs under FTS2000.

As you

« PreviousContinue »