gram and makes needs-based determinations of eligibility for payments under the program.

The SSA faces demographic challenges and growing public expectations as it conducts a broad scope of activities, services, and interactions. It is predicted that the SSA’s workload will increase sharply as the baby boomers—the large cohort born during the 1946-1964 period, sometimes called the Silver Tsunami—reach retirement or become disability-prone. For example, the number of people filing for retirement annually has increased by 500,000 since 2000, a 25 percent increase.1 At the same time, like other federal agencies with an aging workforce, the SSA is facing a projected brain drain. A substantial number of the agency’s most experienced employees (who best understand the complex benefits-determination processes and the agency’s large and complex technology infrastructure) could retire at any time.

Today, public contact with the SSA largely takes place face to face at its field offices, by phone through the teleservice centers, or through the mail (for example, Social Security statements are automatically mailed yearly to workers over the age of 25). These activities are labor-intensive; over 60 percent of the SSA’s employees (located mainly in field offices and at teleservice centers) deliver direct service to the public, and another 30 percent (in the regional offices, processing centers, and headquarters) provide direct support to those front-line workers.

Some sectors of the economy have seen a broad push toward online services as both a complement to and a substitute for traditional service-delivery mechanisms. For reasons including cost-effectiveness and enhanced customer satisfaction, many commercial organizations today are offering online, e-business services, often 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7), 365 days a year. The growing adoption and use of such services reflect the emergence of a suite of information technologies capable of supporting online services and a general public that has a rising level of comfort and familiarity with the Internet and other information technologies in personal, social, and commercial contexts and that increasingly expects both firms and government agencies to provide online information and services.

As they do for commercial enterprises, online services offer the SSA an opportunity to improve its operational efficiency and to increase its total service capacity—in particular, to cope with its growing workload at a time when it is facing its own retirement wave. The technologies for providing online services have reached a sufficient level of maturity to


Mary Mosquera, “Case Files Travel Lighter, Faster,” Government Computer News, Oct. 9, 2006, available at, accessed June 14, 2007.

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