Social Security Rated Among the Best in Government on Computer Security Report Card
Grade Improves to "B+"
A Congressional report card rates Social Security’s computer security efforts among the best in Federal government. This report card, issued by the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, gave the Social Security Administration a grade of “B+,” the third highest among Federal agencies. Social Security has been among the top-ranking government agencies each of the four years the report has been issued.
“For more than 68 years, Social Security has honored its commitment to the American people to maintain the confidentiality of our records,” said Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security. “Through hard work and dedication, we have earned a well-deserved reputation as an Agency worthy of the confidence and trust of the American people.”
In the three previous years the report card was issued Social Security has fared well, earning the highest grade in government in 2002 and 2000, and the second highest mark in 2001. The subcommittee’s computer security grades are based on information contained in agency reports required by the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).
To view the computer security report card, please go to:
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Social Security Announces 2.1 Percent Benefit Increase for 2004
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits for more than 51 million Americans will increase 2.1 percent in 2004, the Social Security Administration announced today.
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits increase automatically each year based on the rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding period of the current year. This year's increase in the CPI-W was 2.1 percent.
The 2.1 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that 47 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2004. Increased payments to 7 million Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries will begin on December 31.
Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $87,900 from $87,000 in 2003. Of the estimated 156 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2004, about 9.2 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum in 2004.
Information about Medicare changes for 2004 can be found at www.hhs.gov – The Internet site for the Department of Health and Human Services.
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NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet showing the effect of the various automatic adjustments is attached. More detailed information about these automatic adjustments can be found on the Office of the Chief Actuary's website.
Commissioner Barnhart Presents Her Approach to Improving the Disability Determination Process
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, today presented an approach to improving the disability determination process that would shorten decision times, pay benefits to people who are obviously disabled much earlier in the process and test new incentives for those with disabilities who wish to remain in, or return to, the workforce.
“Clearly, the current process for determining eligibility must change. People are waiting too long to get benefits,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “Today I present an approach that uses 21st century technology to speed up processing times and to create accountability at every step in the disability process.”
Commissioner Barnhart’s approach is the result of more than a year and a half of study and discussions with groups involved in the disability process – including Social Security employees from across the country, state Disability Determination Services (DDS), Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), health care providers, the federal courts, claimant attorneys and representatives, claimant advocacy groups, Members of Congress and concerned members of the public.
Under the current process, it takes an average of 628 days for a Social Security disability application that is denied and appealed at each step to reach final agency action. (To read more about the current disability process and associated delays, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/disability_process_welcome.htm).
“My goals for improving the disability program are to make the correct decision as early in the process as possible and to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “My approach would enable us to do that.”
“Designing my approach for improving the process is the first step of what I believe must be – and will continue to make – a collaborative process,” said Commissioner Barnhart. “I will work within the Administration, with Congress, the state Disability Determination Services and interested organizations and advocacy groups before putting pen to paper to write proposed regulations. To be successful, perspectives from all parts of the system must be considered.”
None of the suggested changes would require legislative action; none would adversely affect the employment status of current Social Security or DDS employees.
Commissioner Barnhart’s approach is predicated on successful rollout of the Accelerated electronic Disability process (AeDib). AeDib creates an electronic folder for the claimant’s application, medical information and other data. AeDib will eliminate numerous time delays and financial costs related to locating the paper file, maintaining its contents and mailing them from office to office. The Social Security Administration is currently piloting AeDib in three states, and will phase in its use nationwide during an 18-month roll-out.
At a hearing before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, Commissioner Barnhart described highlights of her approach. They include:
- The establishment of expert units and screening for “quick
decision.” New medical expert units would be organized by areas of clinical specialty (e.g., orthopedic, pediatric, psychiatric) and located in Social Security Regional offices. These units would provide assistance for disability decision makers at all levels of the determination process (DDS examiners, ALJs, etc). Through a “quick decision” process, these units would screen claims for applicants who are obviously significantly disabled (e.g., ALS, end-stage renal disease, aggressive cancers) and approve them before they are sent to a state DDS.
- DDS examiners would be required to more fully document and
explain the basis for a decision to deny a disability claim. The DDS reconsideration stage of the current appeal process would be eliminated. Federal Disability Quality Branches, which presently review DDS decisions, will be replaced by an in-line quality review and a centralized quality control. As a result of “quick decision” and elimination of reconsideration, the DDS would be able to devote freed-up resources to better documentation of decisions.
- The creation of the Federal Reviewing Official position. If a claim is denied by the DDS, the claimant would be able to ask for an independent review by a Federal Reviewing Official. The Reviewing Official, an attorney, after a thorough examination of the record, would either approve or deny the claim. If the claim is not allowed, the Reviewing Official would prepare a written report outlining the reasons the claim should be denied or outlining the evidence needed to successfully support the claim. This report would be provided to the claimant. If the Reviewing Official’s decision is appealed, a de novo hearing would be scheduled before an ALJ, who would also receive a copy of the report.
- Closing the record following the ALJ hearing. Following a hearing, the ALJ will issue a written opinion explaining the basis for the decision, and the record will be closed. The Appeals Council stage of the current process is eliminated.
- Quality control for disability claims will be centralized, with end-of-the-line reviews and an Oversight Panel. An Oversight Panel, consisting of two ALJs and one Administrative Appeals Judge, would examine the case after quality review. If the Oversight Panel affirms the ALJ decision, that decision would become a final agency action. If the Oversight Panel reverses the ALJ decision, that decision would become a final agency action. Claimants would continue to be able to appeal any final agency action to Federal district court.
Social Security has developed a Service Delivery Plan to eliminate backlogs within a 5-year period. The President’s FY 2004 Budget Request provides significant additional funding to begin to eliminate these backlogs. Backlogs at the DDS have already been reduced. Progress is being made at hearing and Appeals Council levels.
Social Security plans to conduct several demonstration projects aimed at helping people with disabilities return to work. These projects would support the President’s New Freedom Initiative and provide work incentives and opportunities earlier in the process. They would include: early intervention demonstration projects that provide medical and cash benefits and employment supports to applicants who elect to pursue work rather than disability benefits; temporary allowance demonstration projects that provide immediate cash and medical benefits for a specified period to applicants who are highly likely to benefit from aggressive medical care; interim medical benefits demonstration projects that provide health insurance coverage to certain uninsured applicants whose medical condition is likely to improve with medical treatment; and ongoing employment supports to assist beneficiaries who wish to obtain and sustain work will also be tested.
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First Competitive Sourcing Study Rates Social Security Administration “The Best”
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, announced that the results of the Agency’s first OMB Circular A-76 Competitive Sourcing Streamlined Study were decided in favor of the Social Security Administration (SSA). As a result, SSA was able to retain performance of the Agency’s software validation function.
“It is no surprise to me that SSA has proven it is capable of providing the most efficient service with the best value,” said Commissioner Barnhart. “I have said all along that SSA’s employees are among the best not only in the Federal government but as compared to the private sector as well.”
This was one of several competitive sourcing studies currently underway to determine whether the Government or a private contractor can provide the most cost effective service to the American taxpayer. Competitive sourcing is part of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) – President Bush’s initiatives to improve the management and performance of government. Competitive sourcing implements a PMA guiding principle that government should actively promote innovation through competition.
The functions in the SSA software validation study are performed by 36 employees who maintain, test and validate software changes related to SSA’s automated processing of its work. SSA’s in-house cost estimate for the function was approximately one-third lower than the lowest contract cost in the study.
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Deputy Commissioner Lockhart: Delays in Strengthening Social Security Mean More Difficult Choices in the Future
James B. Lockhart, the Deputy Commissioner of Social Security, stressed the need to strengthen Social Security in comments to the Fifth Annual Retirement Research Conference at the National Press Club. "The sooner we address the problem, the less abrupt the changes will have to be," said Lockhart.
Lockhart’s presentation showed that Social Security’s current pay-as-you-go system is unsustainable because of the aging of America’s population, and that the tax increases or benefit reductions needed to maintain Social Security’s solvency rise with each year that action is delayed.
To keep Social Security solvent over the next 75 years would require a 15 percent payroll tax increase if action were taken today. Delaying action until 2018 would mean a tax increase of 22 percent, and waiting until 2042 the payroll tax increase would rise to 45 percent above today’s level.
Likewise, to keep Social Security solvent over the next 75 years by reducing benefits would require a 13 percent cut today, but the reduction would increase to 16 percent if action were delayed until 2018, and 31 percent if delayed until 2042.
Lockhart said, "The unattractiveness of relying exclusively on tax increases and benefit reductions to bring Social Security into balance has led some Republicans and Democrats to turn to options like personal accounts that could improve the rate of return on Social Security contributions."
On March 17, upon the release of the 2003 Social Security Trustees Report, President Bush said, "I hope that Members of Congress will join with the Social Security Administration and other interested parties in a national dialogue about how to best strengthen and protect Social Security." Lockhart stressed that the Social Security Administration will work with Members of Congress of both political parties to further bipartisan efforts to strengthen Social Security for future generations.
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Social Security Administration Delivers Most Popular Baby Names for 2002
Emily and Jacob Top Baby Names in U.S.
For Mother's Day, Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, announced the top baby names in the United States for 2002.
"There are two repeat performers for 2002," said Commissioner Barnhart. "Based on all Social Security card applications for children born last year, Emily is still the top girl baby name and Jacob returns as the most popular boy name."
Please click on the Most Popular Baby Names link at Social Security’s newly redesigned website -- www.socialsecurity.gov -- to see the top baby names for 2002. The top ten boys and girls names for 2002 are:
Emily and Jacob have become entrenched atop the list. Emily has been the most popular female name each year since 1996. Before that, it was Jessica, which topped the list from 1989 to 1995. Jacob has been the top male name since 1999. Prior to that, Michael was the most popular name each year from 1964 to 1998.
A list of the 1,000 most popular baby names for 2002, as well as the most popular baby names for each state, can be found by clicking the link to the Most Popular Baby Names.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) started compiling baby name lists in 1997. Today, the SSA website offers lists of baby names for each year since 1880.
The easiest way for parents to apply for a baby's Social Security number (SSN) is through a process known as Enumeration at Birth. This automatic service enables parents to apply for an SSN at the same time they fill out the birth certificate information at the hospital. Enumeration at Birth, which saves parents time and makes a trip to the local Social Security office unnecessary, is available free of charge in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.
"Enumeration at Birth offers parents an opportunity to request a Social Security number for their newborn as part of the birth registration process," Commissioner Barnhart said. "The main reason to get an SSN for a newborn is so the child can be claimed as a dependent on the parents' tax return. Even though this may not be the first thing new parents are thinking about after having a baby, it is quick, easy, and convenient."
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A New Name for a New Website
There is a new place to go -- www.socialsecurity.gov -- to find a wealth of information about the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) programs and services. SSA’s new Internet address takes you to a redesigned website, "Social Security Online," with a fresh, user-friendly look and feel. The website is easier to navigate, more attractive and more accessible to all visitors, including people with visual or other physical disabilities.
"Everything you want to know about Social Security is now easier to find on SSA’s new website, www.socialsecurity.gov," said Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security. "We’ve redesigned our website so that it is better organized and easier for the public to conduct Social Security business online. And our new address is more easily associated with our agency."
One of the most popular Internet services offered by SSA is the online benefits application, where people can apply for retirement, spouse’s and disability benefits via the Internet. This service -- found at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyforbenefits -- allows people to conduct business with SSA at a time that is convenient to them and from the comfort of their own home.
"Social Security’s programs touch the lives of nearly every person in America, from the young to the old," said Commissioner Barnhart. "www.socialsecurity.gov offers online services for children and retirees, and for people at every stage of life in between."
socialsecurity.gov provides useful online services and valuable information for all types of people, whether it’s:
a young adult first entering the workforce,
a new bride,
a new parent,
a person who has become disabled,
a family member who has lost a loved one, or
- an older person making the transition from work to retirement.
People of all ages and life situations can find an abundance of information in SSA’s publications and Frequently Asked Questions, which can be found easily at SSA’s new, simplified homepage.
Young children and teens can have fun and learn about Social Security at www.socialsecurity.gov/people/kids -- SSA's Kids and Family page.
Workers and people nearing retirement can get estimates of their future Social Security benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners by clicking on "calculators."
People receiving disability benefits, employers and service providers can visit The Work Site at www.socialsecurity.gov/work for information about support programs geared towards helping people with disabilities find employment.
Links at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices cover the gamut of additional online services offered by Social Security, from general services that anyone can use to specific services for beneficiaries and businesses.
socialsecurity.gov replaces SSA’s former Internet address (www.ssa.gov), but people can still get to Social Security Online with either address. The old address will still work for those who have marked SSA’s website as a favorite on their computers.
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NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: A fact sheet about the new website is attached.
Social Security Administration Acts to Protect Benefits for Families of Troops Serving Under Fire
Military families will not lose valuable government disability benefits because a member of the household has been sent into combat. Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, has clarified the Agency’s policies so that individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability payments, and Medicaid coverage, can continue to do so even if family income rises due to a mother, father or spouse receiving special combat-related supplements to their military pay.
“We must support the brave men and women who are fighting overseas, as well as their families here at home,” Commissioner Barnhart said. “If one hand of government is providing some additional income to compensate soldiers for the sacrifices they are making for our country, we’re not going to let another hand of government take that money away from their disabled child or spouse.”
Aged, blind or disabled individuals whose families have limited means can qualify for monthly SSI benefits from the Social Security Administration. Those benefits, in turn, frequently lead to free medical care through state-run Medicaid programs. As a general rule, if other family income goes up, the SSI payment will go down. Members of the Armed Forces often receive supplements to their basic military pay. Normally, a portion of any pay supplement would be used to reduce benefits paid to any family members on SSI. But Commissioner Barnhart’s directive ensures that any additional pay received by military personnel deployed to a combat zone cannot be used to reduce SSI benefits paid to their children or spouse if they were not receiving the additional pay immediately prior to deployment.
Commissioner Barnhart also ordered a change in the way the Agency treats housing supplements paid to some military families. Traditionally, military bases provided actual housing for service members. But under public-private sector initiatives, some military bases now provide a housing allowance that is used to pay rent to contractors providing privatized housing. Until recently, the full amount of that housing allowance was used to offset any SSI benefits payable to family members. At Commissioner Barnhart’s direction, the Agency will treat privatized housing the same as it has always treated actual military housing in the SSI program, enabling some military families in privatized housing who lost SSI payments and Medicaid coverage to regain those benefits.
People who need more information should contact their local Social Security office.
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Social Security Not Sustainable for the Long Term
The Social Security Board of Trustees today declared that the Social Security program is not sustainable over the long term. The 2003 Social Security Trustees Report does extend the projected solvency of the trust funds by one year.
In the 2003 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
- The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2018 -- one year later than the estimate in last year’s report;
- The projected point at which the trust funds will be exhausted comes in 2042 -- one year later than the estimate in last year’s report;
- The projected actuarial deficit of taxable payroll over the 75-year long-range period is 1.92 percent -- larger than the 1.87 percent projected in last year’s report;
- The Trust Funds would require another $3.5 trillion in today’s dollars, earning interest at Treasury rates, to pay all scheduled benefits over the next 75 years. This obligation grew $200 billion from last year.
"This report is yet another reminder of what we have known for some time: Social Security's long-term financing problems are very serious, and will not be fixed by wishful thinking alone," said Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security.
"I want to assure those already receiving Social Security benefits – as well as those who are close to retirement – that your benefits are secure. But doing nothing will have serious consequences for our children and grandchildren.
"The release of this report is a good time to remind people how the Social Security program works. Social Security taxes pay the benefits of today's retirees. Money in excess of what is needed to pay today's benefits is invested in special issue, interest-bearing Treasury bonds. This system works well when there is a relatively high ratio of workers to beneficiaries. For instance, in 1965, there were 4 workers for every Social Security recipient.
"But the demographics are changing. People are living longer. The first baby boomers are just five years from retirement and the birth rate is low. Today, there are 3.3 workers paying Social Security payroll taxes for every one person collecting Social Security benefits. That number will drop to 2 to 1 in less than 40 years. At this ratio there will not be enough workers to pay scheduled benefits at current tax rates.
"As stated in the Trustees Report, the sooner we address the problem, the less abrupt the changes will have to be.
"Earlier today, Secretary Snow and I met with the President. We share the President’s strong hope that the national debate about Social Security will lead to a bipartisan solution.
"Social Security’s retirement, disability and survivors’ components touch the lives of nearly every American family. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we must come together to meet the challenges facing this vitally important program."
Other highlights of the Trustees Report include:
- Income to the combined Old-Age and Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds amounted to $627 billion in 2002.
- The Trust Funds paid benefits of approximately $453.8 billion in calendar year 2002. There were 46 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
- The cost of $4.2 billion to administer the program continues to be a very low 0.7 percent of total income.
- Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $461.7 billion in 2002.
- The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $165 billion in 2002 to a total of $1.378 trillion.
- Interest earned on the invested assets of the combined Trust Funds was $80.4 billion in 2002. The combined trust fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 6.4 percent.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: John W. Snow, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security; Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor. The other two members, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, are John L. Palmer and Thomas R. Saving.
The 2003 Trustees Report will be posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/TR03 by Monday evening.
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Commissioner Barnhart: President's Budget for SSA Shows Commitment to Programs; Confidence in Agency
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, released the following statement regarding President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2004 budget:
"What a tremendous vote of confidence from our President! This is a large allocation of resources under any circumstances, but in this fiscal climate – especially with the compelling demands of national defense and homeland security – it is huge. It clearly demonstrates his support for our programs, which touch the lives of nearly every American. This budget will enable us to add 1,000 new SSA employees and over 300 new Disability Determination Service (DDS) employees.
"This budget recognizes the hard work and dedication of the Agency’s employees – most notably a 5.1% increase in productivity last year. In addition, our disability components caught up on continuing disability reviews, finishing our 7-year plan on time and under budget. DDSs exceeded goals in processing initial claims, despite the unexpected spike in new claims, and the Hearing Offices cleared over 500,000 hearings, almost 10% more cases above their goal.
"During my confirmation hearing, I made a commitment to develop and present a Service Delivery Budget (SDB). Last fall, I submitted the five-year SDB to the Office of Management and Budget. It outlines ambitious, but attainable, goals to work down our backlogs over five years, complete work on special workloads, and make stewardship and service investments. The SDB also includes an average annual 2% productivity increase over the five-year period.
"We have the President’s support. Now, we must convince Congress to enact this budget. The resources requested by the President are vitally important in our Agency's efforts to serve the American people."
To read more about the proposed FY 2004 budget for SSA, click here.
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Supplemental Security Income Program Removed from High-Risk List
General Accounting Office Recognizes Improvements in Program Management
Today, the General Accounting Office (GAO) announced it removed the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program from its high-risk list. In doing so, GAO recognized the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) efforts to improve the management of the program. SSI, administered by SSA, is a needs-based financial assistance program that makes monthly payments to people who are disabled or aged and have limited income and assets.
"The American people expect and deserve well-managed programs," said Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security. "The removal of the SSI program from the high-risk list is an example of our commitment to good stewardship. I want to thank the Deputy Commissioner, Jim Lockhart, for his leadership in developing a corrective action plan that ultimately led to GAO’s favorable decision."
The GAO report states that "SSA has made sufficient progress in improving SSI’s financial integrity and management to warrant removing its high-risk designation." SSA established a task force that outlined initiatives to improve the management of the SSI program. This task force meets monthly to discuss progress and a newly designed management report.
Some of the key initiatives include:
increasing the number of financial reviews which verify that SSI beneficiaries continue to be eligible from 1.8 million in 1997 to 2.4 million in 2001
increasing the number of disability reviews to determine that a person is still disabled
increasing access to online data from financial institutions, federal and state government agencies and nursing homes to verify information about applicants
improving SSI overpayment collections through tax and Social Security offsets
establishing cross-agency Cooperative Disability Investigation teams lead by SSA’s Inspector General
developing program simplification initiatives
SSI is the nation’s largest cash assistance program for the poor. SSI is a means-tested program to provide or supplement the income of disabled, blind, or aged individuals with limited income and assets. In 2002, SSA made $38 billion in payments to more than 6.8 million SSI beneficiaries. Approximately 36 percent of SSI beneficiaries also receive Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefits.
"I agree with GAO’s assessment that SSA must remain vigilant on issues of program integrity," said Commissioner Barnhart. "I’m pleased that the Comptroller General agrees with me and shares my commitment to improving the disability process and to assisting people with disabilities go to work. My service delivery budget, which I submitted last fall to the Office of Management and Budget, addresses these and other stewardship and service goals."
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