1
Background and Current Context

This chapter provides some background on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) mission and strategy and presents a brief overview of the rest of the report.

THE MISSION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

The mission of the Social Security Administration is “to promote the economic security of the nation’s people through compassionate and vigilant leadership in shaping and managing America’s Social Security programs.”1 The agency’s mission, along with its organizational structure and culture, has its roots in the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s broad initiatives for addressing economic insecurity and poverty.

Development and Expansion of the Social Security Act

In 1934, with the country traumatized by the Great Depression, President Roosevelt pressed forward to provide economic security for older Americans in the form of old-age benefits from an insurance system with near-universal coverage.2 The original Social Security Act was signed by

1

See Social Security Administration, “Information About the Social Security Administration,” available at http://www.ssa.gov/aboutus/, accessed June 9, 2006.

2

See, for example, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Use of History for Decision Makers, New York: The Free Press, 1986, pp. 97-102.



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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment 1 Background and Current Context This chapter provides some background on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) mission and strategy and presents a brief overview of the rest of the report. THE MISSION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION The mission of the Social Security Administration is “to promote the economic security of the nation’s people through compassionate and vigilant leadership in shaping and managing America’s Social Security programs.”1 The agency’s mission, along with its organizational structure and culture, has its roots in the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s broad initiatives for addressing economic insecurity and poverty. Development and Expansion of the Social Security Act In 1934, with the country traumatized by the Great Depression, President Roosevelt pressed forward to provide economic security for older Americans in the form of old-age benefits from an insurance system with near-universal coverage.2 The original Social Security Act was signed by 1 See Social Security Administration, “Information About the Social Security Administration,” available at http://www.ssa.gov/aboutus/, accessed June 9, 2006. 2 See, for example, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Use of History for Decision Makers, New York: The Free Press, 1986, pp. 97-102.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment the president on August 14, 1935. The 1935 act included two major provisions for the elderly: Title I (Grants to States for Old-Age Assistance) supported state welfare payments for the aged, and Title II (Social Security) provided benefits to workers upon retirement at age 65.3 The Social Security Act of 1935 provided retirement benefits for workers at age 65. Social Security benefits and programs were expanded through a series of legislative amendments to cover the following: In 1939: dependent’s benefits for the spouse and minor children of a retired worker and survivor’s benefits for the family of a covered worker who died before retirement, In 1950: increased benefit amounts and cost-of-living allowance (COLA) increases, In 1954 and 1956: disability benefits, In 1956 and 1961: options providing for early retirement at age 62 (with reduced benefits) for women in 1956 and for men in 1961, In 1965: Medicare (an SSA-administered health insurance program for people over 65), and In 1972: a modern Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program and yearly COLA increases.4 The SSA began as an independent agency at the subcabinet level. It became part of the new Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1953; was made part of the new Department of Health and Human Services in 1980; and was returned to independent-agency status in 1995.5 The SSA no longer administers Medicare, which is now administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS; formerly the Health Care Financing Administration), itself part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Although CMS is in charge of Medicare, the SSA provides substantial service-delivery support for the program. For example, applicants can receive general information about Medicare and its programs from the SSA and can apply for Medicare through the 3 Adapted from Social Security Administration, “Social Security History” available at http://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html, accessed June 9, 2006. 4 Social Security Administration, “Social Security History,” available at http://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html, accessed June 9, 2006. 5 Abridged from “SSA History,” available at http://www.ssa.gov/history/orghist.html, accessed June 9, 2006.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment SSA.6 The SSA also provides substantial service-delivery support for the Medicaid, Railroad Retirement, and Food Stamp programs.7 Current SSA Programs The Social Security Act, as amended, established the following three programs that the SSA currently administers: Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), Disability Insurance (DI), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The OASI program is financed by the OASI Trust Fund. According to the SSA, 92 percent of persons aged 65 or over in 2004—some 40 million people—were receiving OASI benefits as retirees, spouses, or other dependents; these benefits amounted to more than 50 percent of income for 65 percent of these beneficiaries.8 In that same year, more than 158 million individuals earned benefits by paying Social Security payroll taxes, and the SSA paid more than $490 billion to more than 48 million people.9 The DI program is administered by the SSA. The SSA funds state-run Disability Determination Services (DDS). Although these state-run DDS agencies are federally funded and guided by SSA rules in their decision making, they hire their own staffs and retain a considerable degree of independence in how they manage their offices and conduct disability 6 Medicaid is a different program, run by the states, that provides qualifying, low-income people with medical and hospital coverage. For more information, see http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10043.html#part7, accessed June 9, 2006. 7 Social Security Administration, Strategic Plan: FY 2006-FY 2011, January 2006, p. 2 (hereafter cited as Social Security Administration, Strategic Plan: FY 2006-FY 2011), available at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/strategicplan.html, accessed June 9, 2006. 8 Social Security Administration, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis,” pp. 8-9 in Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005, January 2006 (hereafter cited as Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005), available at http://www.ssa.gov/finance/2005/MDA.pdf, accessed June 20, 2007. According to the SSA Web site at http://www.ssa.gov/deposit/DDFAQ898.htm (accessed June 20, 2007), “as of January 1999, 75 percent of all Social Security and SSI beneficiaries received their benefits by direct deposit.” 9 Social Security Administration, Results at the Social Security Administration: Getting It Done, August 2, 2005, p. 1, available at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/performance/results/results2005.pdf, accessed June 20, 2007. To qualify for retirement and survivor’s insurance benefits, a worker born after 1929 must have paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years (thus receiving 40 “credits”) during his or her lifetime. Credits are based on earnings; in 2006, a worker could earn one credit for each $970 in earnings, up to a maximum of four credits a year. Benefits are payable to workers upon retirement at age 62 or later; benefits are also paid to certain dependents and survivors.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment determinations.10 To qualify for the DI program, an individual must be eligible through recent covered work before the onset of disability. The number of recent credits required for eligibility increases with age. “Disability” requires that a worker have a mental or physical impairment that has lasted (or is expected to last) more than 12 months or that is expected to result in death (the DDS agencies perform the medical review function and are responsible for making the medical determinations under SSA’s direction). DI benefits can be paid to disabled workers and eligible family members as long as the individual is disabled and does not perform “substantial gainful work.” The SSA periodically reviews the disability status of beneficiaries. The SSA also offers programs to provide incentives for individuals who want to try to return to work. According to the SSA, in 2005 SSA DI benefits replaced about 44 percent of the income of a “medium income” disabled worker. DI benefits were paid to about 8 million beneficiaries.11 SSI is a needs-based program financed from general tax revenues, in contrast to the retirement and survivor’s insurance benefits provided under the OASI program and the disability insurance benefits provided under the DI program. It is designed to provide benefits to aged adults and to blind or disabled adults and children with limited income and resources. For adults, the SSI definition of “disability” and the SSI disability review procedures are the same as those for the DI program, except that different rules apply for statutory blindness. Different definitions apply for children. There are provisions and incentives intended to encourage people receiving SSI benefits to work. Because it is a needs-based program, SSI has ongoing requirements for recipients to submit and the SSA to process monthly information about income and resources. This information impacts benefit amounts and continuing eligibility. The full SSI benefit is designed to be equivalent to about 73 percent of the federal poverty level for an individual and about 81 percent for a couple. In 2005, the federal poverty level was defined as $9,750 for an individual and $12,830 for a couple. Most states supplement the federal SSI benefit. According to the SSA, in 2005, 4.6 million individuals received SSI benefits only; 2.5 million received concurrent SSI and OASI/DI benefits.12 10 U.S. General Accounting Office, Testimony Before the Subcommittees on Human Resources and Social Security, Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, SSA Customer Service: Broad Service Delivery Plan Needed to Address Future Challenges, February 11, 2000, available at http://www.gao.gov/archive/2000/h100075t.pdf, accessed June 20, 2007. 11 Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005, pp. 8, 12 Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005, pp. 2, 11.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment Although the most visible users in these programs are members of the general public, users in addition to individual beneficiaries also have interests in the SSA’s varied programs. Most notably, state governments, as joint administrators of programs such as DI, have important stakes at least in how various databases of information are maintained and made accessible: proper access directly affects the timeliness and accuracy of processing disability claims and providing benefits to those who are found eligible. See Chapter 4 for more on external partnering. SSA Business Products and Processes According to the SSA, the OASI, DI, and SSI programs “touch” over 95 percent of the American public at various points during their lifetimes. The reasons include the following: filing for a Social Security number (SSN), establishing a record of earnings, retiring, becoming disabled, suffering the loss of a spouse or parent, and/or being unable to meet basic financial needs as an older American. The SSA views these as the critical points at which members of the public interact with the agency by seeking information, applying for benefits, or reporting “post-entitlement” changes. See Table 1.1 for a sense of the scale of the SSA’s activities across the three programs. TABLE 1.1 Social Security Administration Activities in Fiscal Year 2005 Across Three Programs: OASI, DI, and SSI Activity in Fiscal Year 2005 Scale Benefits paid Almost 53 million people per month Eligibility determinations made 8 million new claims Decisions made 1.6 million hearings and appeals Continuing disability benefits reviewed 1.5 million reviews New and replacement Social Security cards issued 17 million cards Worker’s earnings records processed 257 million items Calls received at the SSA 800-number 56 million calls Social Security Statements issued 142 million statements NOTE: OASI, Old Age and Survivors Insurance; DI, Disability Insurance; SSI, Supplemental Security Income. SOURCE: Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005, January 2006, p. 12, available at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/strategicplan.html, accessed June 9, 2006.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment As it carries out its mission through these business processes, the SSA emphasizes “Service, Stewardship, Solvency, and Staff” as shorthand for its commitment to do the following: Give the American people the excellent service they expect and deserve, Ensure the highest level of program integrity through sound fiscal stewardship, Ensure the program’s financial solvency for future generations, and Maintain high-quality staff committed to organizational excellence.13 These are the top-level, strategic commitments that are reflected in the agency’s formulation of strategic goals and objectives and performance indicators. In fiscal year (FY) 2005, according to the SSA, 78 percent of its operating expenses, some $7.4 billion, were used in support of the service goal.14 The SSA has defined five core business processes to facilitate the planning and managing of the delivery of services to beneficiaries: Issuing SSNs (enumeration), Establishing and maintaining individual records of earnings, Processing benefits claims, Maintaining post-entitlement records of changes and reviews, and Informing the public.15 These core business processes cross program and organizational lines within the agency.16 For example, processing benefits claims applies to all programs for which the SSA is responsible. Although there are variations among the claims processes for the respective programs, the essential claims process is the same. Similarly, the basic post-entitlement business process applies to all programs, again with some variations among them. The same basic communications strategies, tools, methods, and so on are used to inform the public about each of the programs, although targeted audiences, emphases, and media might be used to suit the program need. In all cases, executing these processes also entails crossing organizational lines. Although the focus of each of these processes is to serve members of the public, each also entails important interaction, either current or 13 Social Security Administration, Strategic Plan: FY 2006-FY 2011, p. 1. 14 Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005, p. 15. 15 Social Security Administration, Strategic Plan: FY 2006-FY 2011, p. 2. 16 Social Security Administration, Strategic Plan: FY 2006-FY 2011, p. 2.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment potential, with other communities. Thus, for example, while the issuance of SSNs is a service to individual members of the public, the verification of SSNs is an important service to business and other governmental agencies. Serving these additional users entails responding to many millions of additional service requests. INTERNAL ORGANIZATION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION The Social Security Administration has a staff of more than 65,000 employees spread throughout a network of some 1,500 offices. In addition to the Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., headquarters, these offices include the SSA’s 10 regional offices; 7 processing centers; more than 1,300 field offices (which, among other things, handle application intake); 36 teleservice (800-number) centers; and hearings offices. In addition, the SSA provides policy, administrative direction, and funding for the 54 state-run DDS agencies, which have more than 16,000 employees.17 Public contact with the SSA is primarily conducted face to face at the field offices, by phone through the teleservice centers, or by mail (for example, Social Security Statements are automatically mailed yearly to workers over age 25). Over 60 percent of the SSA’s employees deliver direct service to the public, mainly in field offices and teleservice centers; another 30 percent in the regional offices, processing centers, and headquarters, providing direct support to those front-line workers.18 However, the SSA is also seeking to use online information and online interactions with the public, both to obtain the efficiencies that technology can offer and to achieve the increases in service capacity that will be required in order to handle the growing baby boom-related workload.19 The SSA also looks to online interactions as a way to help in providing services to its wider user communities. The SSA is headed by the Commissioner of Social Security.20 In addition to the Office of the Commissioner, there are 15 major headquarters 17 Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005, pp. 13-14. 18 Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005. 19 The SSA is facing a baby boom “retirement boom” increase in workload just as its own workforce is becoming eligible for retirement: more than 40 percent of the SSA’s employees are expected to retire by 2014. The baby boom generation has already entered the “disability-prone” years; as a result, the SSA expects its DI rolls to increase by 35 percent between 2002 and 2012 (Social Security Administration, Strategic Plan: FY 2006-FY 2011, pp. 8, 41). 20 The current Commissioner is Michael J. Astrue, whose term began in February 2007. When this study was initiated, the Commissioner was Jo Anne B. Barnhart, whose term began in 2001. The first Commissioner was Arthur J. Altmeyer, who served from 1946 to 1953. See http://www.ssa.gov/history/commissioners.html, accessed June 9, 2006.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment components, organized along functional lines. Each component is headed by a Deputy Commissioner or other senior-level official. (See Appendix C for brief descriptions of the functions of these major offices.) SSA Organization and E-Government Services Just as the SSA’s defined business processes cross lines of benefits programs, the SSA’s management structure crosses lines of both program and delivery channels. This subsection is based on material and quotations from the “Organizational Structure of the Social Security Administration” at the SSA’s Web site (http://www.ssa.gov/org/ssaorg.htm). Quotations below are from the SSA’s organizational element descriptions. With respect to the SSA’s e-government initiatives, the focus of this report, responsibilities for software, hardware, and support for providing electronic information and services are split across several Deputy Commissioners’ domains: The Office of Automation Support in the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Operations (ODCO) is responsible for “integrating service delivery and employee concerns with modern technology.” This office determines Operations’ requirements for software, hardware, and electronic service-delivery support. Also in Operations, the Office of Electronic Services (OES) is the lead for “development and implementation of electronic services.” Under the Chief Information Officer’s leadership, OES also works with other federal agencies on interagency electronic service-delivery initiatives.21 The Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Systems (ODCS) contains the Office of Telecommunications and System Operations, which is responsible for the management, operation, and maintenance of the computer systems and networks on which both e-government and voice applications run. It also contains the Office of Systems Electronic Services, which directs the development of the software that supports electronic service-delivery initiatives; the Office of Disability Systems, which develops, implements, and maintains electronic systems to support disability programs (such as the “eDIB” initiative22); and the Office of Enterprise 21 See Office of Management and Budget, E-Government Strategy: Simplified Delivery of Services to Citizens, February 2002, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/egovstrategy.pdf, accessed June 20, 2007. 22 The eDIB system replaces the paper SSA disability folders with electronic records accessible to all case-processing personnel officers across the country. The electronic folder addresses the problem of lost paper folders. Moreover, it eliminates delays in transferring paper files and can be used to support electronic hearings during the appeals process. See

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment Support, Architecture and Engineering (OESAE), which “identifies the strategic information technology resources needed to support SSA business processes and operations and the transition processes for researching, demonstrating and implementing new technologies in response to the Agency’s strategic vision.” OESAE includes the Division of Data Base Systems—among other things this division develops and maintains the crucial Master Data Access Method (MADAM) software that manages the benefit programs’ master files. The Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Communications (ODCComm) is responsible for the creation, development, evaluation, and oversight of all internal and external SSA communications, as well as its public affairs and public information activities. Within the Office of Communications, the Office of Communications Planning and Technology is the focal point for the development, clearance, and placement of content material on the SSA’s official Internet/Intranet Web sites and is responsible for the development, content, and coordination of the SSA’s internal and external Web marketing activities. The Office of Communications has responsibility for setting policy, for determining what information content is posted on the SSA Web site, and for maintaining the “look and feel” of the entire site. Within the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Disability and Income Security Programs (ODCDISP), the Office of the Associate Commissioner for Disability Programs is responsible for the development, coordination, and oversight of disability policies, procedures, and process requirements supporting the creation of a paperless disability claims process. These split responsibilities for electronic information and services and their implications are discussed further in Chapter 4. The SSA, like other government entities, seeks ways to improve the delivery of information and services while also reducing costs.23 To accomplish these effectiveness and efficiency improvements, the SSA and others are turning to more expansive applications of information technology (IT) and looking to electronic services as a way to help in providing its services to its users. (See Appendix E for a short history of federal e-government activities to provide a broader federal context for the SSA’s activities in this area. Also see Box 1.1 for a brief discussion of terminology.) “Agency Challenges,” pp. 25-26 in Social Security Administration, Performance and Accountability Report, FY 2005, available at http://www.ssa.gov/finance/2005/Agency_Challenges. pdf, accessed June 12, 2007. 23 One key benefit of providing electronic access to SSA transactional services is likely to be a substantial reduction in error rates and, subsequently, in associated costs. For example, presumably an SSA user or beneficiary is less likely to enter his or her own name and address incorrectly than is a call-center person who only hears it or a key entry person who is transcribing it from a handwritten entry on a paper form.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment BOX 1.1 “Electronic Services” Meant to Be Construed Broadly Throughout this report, several terms are used that are often perceived as nearly interchangeable: “online services,” “e-services,” “e-government,” “electronic services,” and so on. Although there are subtle distinctions among all of these, the committee’s preferred term is “electronic services”; it is meant to encompass all of the above. That term was chosen in part because it is the most generic and all-encompassing term, and it also closely mirrors the terminology used currently by the Social Security Administration. It is meant to encompass a broad vision of service delivery—not just to include interactions that take place solely through the use of the Internet, although that is a primary focus, but encompassing others as well. THE AGENCY’S BROAD BASE OF USERS The SSA’s clients and users are not just individual beneficiaries but also include federal government agencies and state governments (for example, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service [IRS], U.S. Department of Labor, and state offices of vital records—see below); third parties (for example, payroll services); representatives assisting beneficiaries (for example, attorneys or representative payees); internal agency users of electronic services (for example, field office workers); and external users of electronic services (for example, community service agencies and social science researchers). Consideration of how the SSA should position itself to provide electronic services in the future should take into account the needs of these various communities and whether they are to be addressed individually or comprehensively. Owing to limited resources and scope, this study did not examine the full range of needs of all of these users. The following subsections indicate the character of some of these user needs. Federal Agencies and State and Local Governments Increasingly, in both e-commerce and e-government, organizations such as the SSA partner with a variety of other organizations to deliver electronic products and services. The SSA already does this to some extent through its participation in some of the federal e-government initiatives that require interagency and intergovernmental coordination and cooperation. For instance, the eVital project involved the SSA’s working with the organization that represents state vital statistics agencies—the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems—to

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment streamline the process of reporting and verifying state-level birth and death data electronically.24 In this instance, the SSA found a community that shared an interest in speeding up and increasing the accuracy of data needed by both partners to fulfill their missions. More specifically, automating the data exchange between state and federal agencies reduced costs, minimized errors from manual processes, and reduced unnecessary and sometimes fraudulent benefits payments.25 The activity just described also points out that a government-to-government e-government project can benefit both the government and SSA beneficiaries without the SSA’s necessarily having to interact directly with beneficiaries. There are challenges of course. As an obvious condition of such interagency and intergovernmental data exchanges, the SSA will want to ensure that the organizations with which it intends to exchange data are willing to comply with the privacy and security requirements that surround data maintained by the SSA on behalf of workers, beneficiaries, and other users. Toward this end, the SSA likely will engage in discussions with potential data-sharing partners and work with them to reduce risks, thereby obtaining important new benefits. There are risks in failing to take advantage of important new technologies, interactions, and opportunities. To be sure, any data-sharing or data-exchange agreement would have to be cost-effective enough for the parties to agree to it. In addition, many states and most counties may not have automated records or only have automated records from fairly recent times. Resource constraints may hamper the ability of some states and counties to create electronic databases despite the obvious long-term benefits to be gained over time from the up-front investment well beyond merely exchanging the data with the SSA. As noted previously, the SSA is required to share information with a variety of other federal government agencies. Considerable exchange of information is required with the IRS in particular, but exchanges with the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, are also an important part of the SSA’s role and mission. There may be increased interactions in the future with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies as well. Because of this, the SSA will need to position itself to ensure that these intra-federal-government transactions are as prompt, efficient, and yet secure as possible. An ongoing consideration will be how to maintain appropriate privacy protection while meeting emerging demands. The creation of transaction modes that are convenient for all agencies will 24 For more information, see http://www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/evital-pr.htm, accessed June 12, 2007. 25 For more information, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/c-2-4-evital.html, accessed June 12, 2007.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment clearly be important. But it is also important that the SSA and its federal partners not overlook the need to ensure that underlying data repositories are designed and implemented so as to facilitate and support sufficient privacy protection, access, security, and sharing modes that serve all participants as effectively as possible. The SSA interacts with state governments in a number of ways, most notably in the handling of Disability Insurance cases. Because of the complexity of disability claims cases and the number, size, and diversity of the data files that comprise them, the demands already being placed on the SSA by the state governments are considerable, and they must be expected to grow in the coming decades. The nature of the data that the SSA must share with the states can be quite sensitive, placing considerable demands for protection of privacy on these transactions. The SSA has developed a system (the eDIB, or Electronic Disability, system) that is intended to improve the quality of its interactions with state-run DDS agencies in what appears to be recognition of the importance of this community in the SSA’s future e-government plans. Third Parties Third-party entities can be potential service-delivery partners, and there are likely opportunities for the SSA to seek initiatives that provide mutual benefits to both organizations and their shared user bases. One challenge is that there are no clear-cut rules for initiating or managing such partnerships for federal agencies.26 This lack of clear-cut rules also means, however, that agencies have wide discretion to create partnerships with third parties for electronic product and service delivery. There are models of innovative e-government partnership, with the IRS’s Free File being the most visible example,27 that can serve as both inspiration and a source of lessons learned. Mindful of privacy and security considerations—which the committee acknowledges can be considerable—the SSA would be well served to explore a broad set of possible partnerships to reach the widest set of users and beneficiaries. Various types of third parties already interact with the SSA. Payroll services companies, for example, are quite prevalent in the U.S. economy, providing to private companies of all sizes support for the preparation of their payrolls. Included in this support are the collection of Social Security 26 S.H. Holden and P.D. Fletcher, “The Virtual Value Chain and E-Government Partnership: Non-Monetary Agreements in the IRS E-File Program,” International Journal of Public Administration 28(7-8):643-664, 2005. 27 Information is available at http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=118986,00.html, accessed June 12, 2007.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment deductions and the preparation of the required Social Security reports. Attorneys specializing in the preparation of disability claims are also an increasingly noticeable presence in our society, and they have substantial interactions with the SSA. Representative payees—friends, family, or other parties who help beneficiaries manage their Social Security payments if the beneficiaries are not able to do so themselves—are another example of third parties that have substantial interactions with the SSA. Many of these third parties already help potential and current beneficiaries with SSA interactions and, as a result, already require the SSA’s attention and resources. The role of third parties intermediating interaction between the SSA and its constituents is already present and likely to increase—at least in quantity if not in kind. The SSA will need to decide how to support third parties in the service-delivery process—while managing the SSA’s appropriately stringent privacy and security requirements28—and what the potential of these individuals and groups is for assuming an important role in service delivery working with the agency. THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION’S E-GOVERNMENT STRATEGY DOCUMENT As part of the study process, the Committee on the Social Security Administration’s E-Government Strategy and Planning for the Future was asked to react to the SSA’s “E-Government Strategy document.”29 Early in the study process, briefings from the SSA and others and an examination of documents provided by the SSA led the committee to conclude that the SSA faces fundamental challenges that, unless properly addressed, would significantly hinder any strategy for implementing electronic services. In the committee’s view, electronic services are best examined in the context of the SSA’s overall service-delivery strategy. Therefore, in the view of the committee, given available resources, an extensive focus on this one particular document would not have been the best use of committee efforts or best serve the SSA or the public. In essence, this entire report is the committee’s response to the early strategy documents and the subsequent input and briefings that it received. Below is a brief discussion of the strategy document itself. 28 Recent losses of personal data by the Department of Veterans Affairs, credit reporting agencies, and others highlight the importance of privacy and security considerations. 29 This document, Social Security Administration, “E-Government Strategy: Meeting Expectations in a Changing World,” dated July 22, 2004, was provided to the committee at the start of the study process.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment The Strategy Document The SSA describes the motivation for the “E-Government Strategy” document as follows: To guide the future development of electronic services and plan to meet the performance measure [targets set as part of the SSA’s FY 2005 Agency Performance Plan development process], agency executives have established the SSA E-Government vision and goals along with the specific projects to achieve the goals within 3 to 5 years.30 The SSA sets its context for action in terms of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA)31 focus on “citizen-centered” use of information technologies to provide “high quality service, cost reduction, improved access to services and government accountability.”32 The SSA also notes the profound effect that the forthcoming baby boom retirement wave will have on its workload, as well as changing public expectations and behaviors with respect to online information and services. The e-government vision as outlined in the strategy document is to provide easy-to-use, secure, and cost-effective e-government services to individuals, businesses, and other government agencies by 2009, so that these clients and other users can conduct most of their business with the SSA electronically. The PMA separates e-government projects into four cross-agency project portfolios: government to citizen (g2c), government to business (g2b), government to government (g2g), and internal efficiency and effectiveness (iee). The strategy document describes the SSA’s progress in implementing discrete projects in each segment, including the Social Security Online Web site and the Internet Social Security benefit application (g2c), electronic wage reporting and the SSN verification service (g2b), data exchanges for secondary payer and veterans’ benefits matching (g2g), and travel bookings (iee). It then highlights selected projects, such as eDIB, supporting the agency’s e-government goals and lists e-government goals linked to three of the agency’s four strategic goals (Service, Stewardship, and Staff). For example: 30 Social Security Administration, “E-Government Strategy: Meeting Expectations in a Changing World,” July 22, 2004, p. 4. 31 For more information on the PMA generally, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budintegration/pma_index.html, accessed June 12, 2007. The SSA leads the eVital project (in the government-to-government portfolio described above); the goal is to establish common processes for federal and state agencies to collect, process, analyze, and share birth- and death-record information. 32 All quotations in this subsection are taken directly from the “E-Government Strategy” document (see footnote 29, above).

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment “Better identify SSA interactions that are appropriate for self-service” is an element in support of the Service goal (the lead is ODCO); “Develop an integrated policy framework on privacy, security, and disclosure,” “Establish new g2b partnerships with our consultants and with interest groups,” and “Manage and measure the cost-effectiveness of a portfolio of e-Gov products and services as opposed to an isolated focus on single Online products/services” are elements in support of the Stewardship goal (the leads are the Office of the Chief Information Officer [OCIO]/ODCS and ODCO; ODCO and ODCComm; and ODCO, respectively); and “Structure programs and policy to better fit the electronic world while continuing to maintain the integrity of the programs” is an element of the Staff goal (the lead is the E-Government Executive Council).33 The strategy document describes the governance and organization of the SSA’s e-government activities as spread across the E-Government Executive Council (to provide leadership at the Deputy Commissioner level), the Associate Commissioner E-Government Steering Committee (to develop and monitor the implementation of the strategy), and the relatively new position of the Chief Information Officer (responsible for the e-government portion of the PMA and for ensuring that information technology and information resources are acquired and managed according to the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 1996 [Public Law 104-106] and the E-Government Act of 2002 [Public Law 107-347]). Brief Assessment Over the course of the study, the committee examined the SSA’s history, current status, and strategic plans for providing electronic information and services to its various user groups (see Box 1.2 for some examples of these users and uses). The resulting report is not so much a reaction to what is in the SSA’s strategy document as a reaction to what is not included. In isolation, and at first glance, the agency’s e-government goals—to employ a citizen-centered approach, to ensure privacy and security, to pursue partnerships, to achieve cost-effectiveness, to align the organization for progress—seem reasonable. However, in the committee’s view, this approach will not take the agency where it needs to go. The strategic goals and projects do not break out of the status quo organizational culture and the highly cautious approach to adopting and 33 Social Security Administration, “E-Government Strategy: Meeting Expectations in a Changing World,” July 22, 2004, pp. 11-12.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment deploying contemporary IT. They do not set the SSA on the path that it needs to be on in an environment of continuous technological and societal change. An implicit theme in this report is that the agency’s technological underpinnings and its organizational culture should each be examined in order to ensure that all are poised to support the shift toward a culture of continuously striving to meet effectively the manifold pressures for change. The committee’s vision is of an SSA that is proactive and thriving in an environment of continuous technological and societal change. The committee believes that this report can be useful in helping the agency’s dedicated employees reach that vision. OUTLINE OF THE REPORT Beyond the Summary (which includes all of the findings and recommendations found in the body of the report) and the background and current context provided in this chapter, the rest of this report examines and assesses the SSA’s medium- and long-term strategy for electronic services, including technological assumptions, operational capabilities, functional requirements, and future goals. Chapter 2 describes current electronic services offered by world-class financial institutions. In the committee’s view, the experiences of financial institutions are a source of important lessons and insights for the SSA (and other agencies) seeking to meet modern expectations and requirements. Chapter 3 provides a brief overview and assessment of the SSA’s current technological infrastructure and organizational approach and summarizes relevant technological and demographic trends, along with their implications for the effective provision of electronic services. Chapter 4 provides an assessment of the SSA’s current organizational culture and structure and addresses the impact of culture and structure on the SSA’s IT choices and service delivery. Chapter 4 concludes with a discussion of opportunities for change. The report outlines a variety of ways in which the SSA can position itself to meet the demands of the future and effectively integrate electronic services into its long-term service-delivery strategy.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment BOX 1.2 Electronic Services at the Social Security Administration: Users and Uses Throughout this study, the Committee on the Social Security Administration’s E-Government Strategy and Planning for the Future has been mindful of the broad range of current and potential users of Social Security Administration (SSA) electronic services, as well as of the variety of uses that online capabilities do and can enable. The following examples present ways in which an increasingly effective www.ssa.gov system can help serve the spectrum of SSA client and user communities. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to illustrate capabilities that are available now1 or that could be made available in the future. By presenting these examples, the committee does not intend to suggest or imply that the SSA should provide only electronic services in any particular program or to a certain group—indeed, multiple channels will always need to be maintained, as there will always be some population that is unable or unwilling to use electronic services. A worker approaching retirement age can now use the SSA’s Retirement Planner tools, available at http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/, to find his or her retirement age, to see the trade-offs between retirement age and benefit amount, to learn how work after retirement and other benefits affect SSA payments, and to complete most of the paperwork needed to apply for retirement benefits. At present, applicants must mail originals or certified copies of supporting documents such as a birth certificate to the SSA or take them to an SSA office, even if the application is made electronically. In the future, if applicants were able to include identifying information about their birth certificates (or circumstances of birth) in the electronic application and if this information was sufficient for use by the SSA to obtain certified birth information through a partnership with the states, then the application process could be entirely electronic, faster, and would not generate visits to local SSA offices. A retiree can find information about the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan now at http://ssa.gov/prescriptionhelp/. The father of a low-birth-weight child can go to http://www.ssa.gov/d&s1. htm now for information on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) eligibility and on how to apply for SSI disability benefits on behalf of his daughter. A newly disabled worker can find information now about the SSA programs for which he or she may be eligible, detailed information about the Disability Insurance (DI) and SSI programs, fill out an online disability application, and get an Adult Disability Starter Kit to help prepare for the disability interview. Medical providers can submit supporting information online through the SSA’s Electronic Records Express Web site, or fax the records to the SSA or the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) agency. Information about Electronic Records Express is available now at http://www.ssa.gov/ere/index.html. A self-employed person can use his or her Social Security number (SSN) as a taxpayer identification number, can report annual income and expenses by filing Schedule C, and can calculate the amount of self-employment tax owed by filing    1Online resources indicated as “now” available were available at the stated locations as of April 17, 2007.

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Social Security Administration Electronic Service Provision: A Strategic Assessment Schedule SE, both of which are attached to his or her current federal income tax Form 1040. The self-employment tax includes both Social Security and Medicare payments. The IRS now sends a record of this Social Security tax payment to the SSA so that it can be added to the individual’s earnings history. Service-provider companies offering accounting and payroll services can help their clients to comply with requirements for SSN verification and electronic wage and W-2 reporting. Employers and their authorized representatives can use the suite of services available now at the SSA’s Business Services Online site, http://www.ssa.gov/bso/bsowelcome.htm. Attorneys, advocates, and other third-party representatives can assist clients who have a variety of disabilities that might entitle them to SSA disability and income support benefits. Their primary services are to help beneficiaries negotiate the complex interactions between the SSA’s program rules and those of other federal agencies and state and local social services agencies. In most cases, clients have signed a power of attorney to recognized third-party representatives to represent them before the SSA to help ensure that they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled. Information for advocates, attorneys, and third-party representatives is now available at http://www.ssa.gov/onlineservices/thirdparty.htm and http://www.ssa.gov/thirdparties.htm. In the future, a Social Security claims representative (CR) in a local field office could use a suite of electronic services to develop the required electronic evidence to support disability or retirement benefits claims as well as continuation of disability benefits. The CR typically obtains prior-year earnings and tax information from the Internal Revenue Service. The CR also needs to get information from a variety of state databases to ascertain proof of age, marriage, and relationship to pre-teen children in the family. Determining eligibility might also require information not currently readily available to the SSA. Automated tools to facilitate this process would help ensure that beneficiaries are more likely to receive the benefits to which they are entitled more quickly and with fewer chances of error. Currently, only parts of this process are done electronically. A woman planning her wedding uses a wedding-related Web site with various “to-do” lists. She sees that, because she plans to change her name after she is married, she will need a new Social Security card in her married name. She uses a link on the site to go to www.ssa.gov and reads why it is important to get the new card now, finds a link to a form to fill out, and sees instructions on how to send or take the supporting documents to her nearest Social Security office. She downloads the “Application for a Social Security Card” (Form SS-5) from the SSA Web site available now at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ss-5.html and begins to fill it out. Reading the instructions, she sees that she needs to show proof of citizenship, proof of identity, and proof of name change to the SSA, along with the completed form. She does not want to mail those documents to the SSA, so she uses the SSA Web site Local Office Search available now at https://s044a90.ssa.gov/apps6z/FOLO/fo001.jsp to locate the closest office. She realizes that she will have to leave work early sometime after her honeymoon so that she can take her marriage document, driver’s license, and Form SS-5 to the SSA office. In the future, if she could securely send certified, electronic copies of her SS-5 form to the SSA, along with sufficient identifying information pointing to her certified identification and name change documents, she could avoid making a trip to the local SSA office.