Social Security Administration (SSA)
Open Government Plan 1.0
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Open Government Plan 2.0 Update Now Available
We've posted our Open Government Plan 2.0 update, which reflects our continuing commitment to the principles of openness and accountability. This refreshed plan includes additional input we received from Open Government stakeholders, the public and our employees; summarizes the progress we have made in implementing Open Government principles at our agency; and outlines additional commitments we expect to meet in the future.
View the updated plan | Follow our progress
Message from the Commissioner
I am pleased to present the Social Security Administration's first Open Government Plan, which is our framework for incorporating the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration into our plans for achieving our mission.
On his first day in office, President Barack Obama issued a call for increased openness in government. The White House issued the Open Government Directive, calling upon each Federal agency to formulate a plan for how it intended to increase and accelerate openness in its programs and operations.
This plan lays out Social Security's open government goals, objectives, and supporting activities. To obtain employee and public input in developing the plan, we solicited ideas and comments through our new Open Government web page. We received hundreds of contacts during the public comment process, and we will continue to use this page as well as other interactive tools to engage the public. We also consulted with stakeholders and open government advocates to get additional perspectives and input for the plan. These suggestions and the public comments played a key role in developing our plan.
We are excited about the opportunities to improve service to the American people by sharing data and information and allowing the public-either individually, or as part of academic, non-profit, or other government entities, help shape our policies and priorities. In addition, we look forward to using innovative data-sharing, collaboration, and participation technologies to support our mission. While our plan spans about two years, we expect to refresh it as we gain experience and receive feedback from the public and our employees. To follow our progress in implementing this plan, and to participate in periodic discussions, please visit our web page at Open Government Initiative. You also may email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the spirit of Open Government, I encourage you to visit our web page often and share your ideas and comments with us as we seek to improve our transparency and accountability to the public we serve.
In this plan, we map out our path to a new level of openness - one that reflects our commitment to increase transparency, expand participation and collaboration, implement three flagship initiatives, and make open government sustainable at Social Security.
Transparency: We are committed to sharing and being accountable for information the public wants from us. We are conducting an inventory of our information and evaluating our processes to release information to the public. We will release information in a format the public can use. We submitted datasets to the Federal government document repository, (www.data.gov), and are incorporating feedback on those datasets, as we move forward with publishing additional information. While our goal is to become even more open and transparent, we will continue to vigilantly protect the personal information the public entrusts to us. We will ensure that transparency does not put that information at risk.
Participation and Collaboration: We will expand on our long history of inviting the public to participate and collaborate with us. Our Open Government Communications Plan Summary includes potential tools and tactics for both external and internal audiences. We will continue to offer opportunities for participation on our Open Government Website (www.socialsecurity.gov/open) and will report there on ideas we receive and progress we make. We will also use our agency Internet site (www.socialsecurity.gov) to share information and provide opportunities for participation and collaboration. To encourage employee collaboration and innovation across the country, we are creating the necessary infrastructure to support existing and emerging Web technologies. We will use social media tools in discussions about our programs and services.
Flagship Initiatives: Our three flagship initiatives - the Spanish Language Retirement Estimator, Online Service Enhancement, and Online Life-Expectancy Calculator - support our agency mission, goals, and objectives, as well as showcase the value of open government principles.
Sustainability: Our Chief Information Officer directs our open government plans and activities. Our Office of Open Government is responsible for managing those activities. Our Open Government executive steering committee provides guidance on overall strategic direction. We will incorporate open government principles into our new Agency Strategic Plan in 2011. Our Open Government Communications Plan Summary includes activities to foster culture change and promote open government principles in our workforce.
Mission and Goals
Our Agency Mission:
Deliver Social Security services that meet the changing needs of the public
Our Open Government Mission:
Support the agency's core mission through the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration
Our Open Government Goals:
- Goal I: Increase transparency
- Goal II: Expand participation and collaboration
- Goal III: Implement open government flagship initiatives
- Goal IV: Make open government sustainable
Who We Are and What We Do:
We run some of the nation's largest entitlement programs: the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Social Security is one of the pillars of America, providing $650 billion in Social Security benefits and SSI payments to approximately 60 million people each year. In addition, we assist people in applying for food stamps and Medicare, including subsidies for the Medicare Prescription Drug Program.
|Services We Provided in Fiscal Year 2009|
|Assisted 45 million visitors to our field offices||Issued 17.5 million Social Security cards|
|Issued almost 53 million $250 economic recovery payments||Handled 67 million transactions via our National 800 Number|
|Posted 262 million earnings items to workers' records||Verified Social Security numbers 1.3 billion times|
|Completed 4.7 million retirement, survivor, and Medicare applications||Completed 244,000 Medicare Prescription Drug Plan subsidy applications|
|Completed 2.8 million disability applications Conducted 1.7 million SSI redeterminations||Issued 151 million Social Security Statements Completed 321,000 SSI aged applications|
|Handled 1.3 million representative payee accountings and changes||Completed 30 million status changes (e.g., address, direct deposit, wage reports)|
|Issued 660,842 hearing decisions Completed 89,066 Appeals Council reviews||Completed 598,000 disability reconsiderations of denied applications|
|Conducted 317,000 medical continuing disability reviews||Took 83,000 Food Stamp applications Completed 2.1 million overpayment actions|
|Responded to 31,551 FOIA requests||Maintained the largest repository of medical records in the world|
Goals, Objectives, and Activities
Goal I: Increase Transparency
"Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known."
--President Barack Obama, January 2009
We will continue to provide information to the public to enable them to understand our mission, our programs, and the actions we take. While we currently share significant amounts of non-personal information through a number of outlets and methods, there is ever-growing public demand for more information and clarity in our processes. We share the President's commitment to making non-personal information known, and we have taken steps to make more information available electronically.
On February 6, 2010, we launched our new Open Government Webpage, through which the public can find datasets and information about our overall management and organizational structure. The public may also use this web page to contact the agency and submit comments and ideas.
Through our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program we ensure transparency through a "presumption of openness."  You will find information on how to submit a FOIA request at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia. We have Disclosure Review Boards governed by senior leadership, which ensure the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of data we release under the Information Quality Act. We posted 17 high-value datasets to Data.gov and plan to proactively identify and release additional information. We expect to incorporate the disclosure review process into our agency planning.
We have named a senior official responsible for the publicly-available Federal spending information. For more information about our transparency initiatives (Data.gov, eRulemaking, Information Technology (IT) Dashboard, Recovery.gov, and USAspending.gov) see Appendix A. We do not have original classification authority and cannot classify any document or system of record. Therefore, we do not have a declassification program.
Objective 1: Provide the public with high value information to generate ideas for improving our programs and services
We reviewed the high-value information and datasets currently available to the public. Based on our review and the feedback we receive through our Open Government Webpage and Data.gov, we will identify additional information to release.
Our Open Government Executive Steering Committee oversees this ongoing review. Our Data.gov point of contact manages the review on a day-to-day basis along with a working group made up of experts in enterprise architecture, data quality, privacy, and security along with agency data stewards. The working group members analyze the agency's architecture, data sources, and operational data stores for high value information and use data extraction tools to deliver the datasets.
The agency's Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics is modernizing the production of the agency's statistical publications. In addition to using a new, efficient, and automated business process to produce statistical tables, the modernization initiative will also allow us to move low level aggregate data used to produce the statistical tables available for public use. These new types of datasets will allow users to generate their own custom statistical information, supporting the transparency objectives of the Open Government Directive. Providing opportunities for data "mash-ups," applications, visualizations, and public analysis promote openness and clearly articulate Social Security's commitment to the open government vision of enhancing accessibilityand creativity in public use of high value data.
We will release at least five new high value datasets or information holdings by December 2010. We also have additional releases planned for 2011. See Appendix A for lists of recent data releases and additional planned releases.
We are also:
- Evaluating our processes to ensure that the information and data we release are clear, accurate, machine readable, and appropriate for release;
- Expanding Disclosure Review Boards to ensure that the data we release are appropriate and that we adequately protect privacy;
- Establishing an action plan to update and release data in accordance with our strategic planning initiatives;
- Reviewing our publicly available information to ensure that it is available in the appropriate format; and
- Exploring the use of social media to improve transparency.
Appendix B, Table 1 contains a set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective.
Objective 2: Provide information to the public in an electronic format
We continue to identify and release high value data that was not previously available to the public. The data releases will conform to the standards of Data.gov and the Information Quality Act. In addition, we will:
- Provide underlying data;
- Update data, as available and as appropriate; and
- Inform key audiences such as advocacy groups, data users, other public and private sector organizations, and members of the public of the available information via electronic messages.
Social Security - Committed to Excellence in Accessibility
We are committed to making our entire Internet and Intranet content accessible to all persons with disabilities. As a leader in the Federal Government in the area of accessibility, we have made great progress with our public-facing websites and our IT procurement, ensuring that the public has access to our services and that out employees with disabilities have the tools and information they need to do their jobs.
But we can't stop there. With the development of new web-based technologies, we face additional challenges and opportunities in ensuring accessibility. We remain committed to ensuring that our online documents, multimedia, social media, and videos comply with Section 508.
For additional details about our accessibility policy and resources for people with disabilities, please view www.socialsecurity.gov/accessibility.
Objective 3: Fully support and participate in the Federal transparency initiative
We support and comply with the requirements of Data.gov, eRulemaking, IT Dashboard, Recovery.gov, and USAspending.gov. See Appendix A for information about each of these activities. We work with other agencies to jointly release data when appropriate. For instance, we participate in Data.gov working groups covering such topics as health and jobs.
Objective 4: Develop and launch a public information campaign around significant planned actions supporting transparency
We created an Open Government Communications Plan that incorporates significant actions supporting transparency and our Open Government web page. You will find a summary of our communications plan in Appendix C.
We reach out to many different stakeholder groups to get their ideas, understand their needs, and offer opportunities to participate and collaborate with us as we make plans for the future of Social Security's service delivery.
We plan to participate in meetings internally and externally to explain the open government initiative with respect to data and Social Security's participation in Data.gov to foster the use of the data. We will meet and consult with research firms and peers (e.g., military, private, not-for-profit) who specialize in business intelligence and information management to benchmark and learn of best practices for data inventories and quality assurance. We will also reach out to members of academia to understand research needs.
We have begun a series of face-to-face meetings with advocacy organizations, during which we solicit feedback about the data and information they want us to make available. During these meetings, we ask about their specific data needs. We will continue to participate in national meetings such as library associations and national disability advocate conferences. We will continue the feedback cycle in subsequent meetings by publishing additional information, and evaluating satisfaction levels and use. We will also monitor outcomes related to new applications, new uses, and richer understanding of the data.
Objective 5: Provide information to the public on internal management procedures
In our efforts to be more transparent, we will go beyond releasing statistics and provide the public with additional information of interest. Documents we post will be valid, current, and accurate.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
We are committed to achieving an unprecedented level of openness in government. We believe our FOIA program strongly reflects this commitment.
Our Office of Privacy and Disclosure (OPD), a major component of the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), has responsibility for all FOIA matters within the agency. Our centralized approach fosters uniformity in training, which enhances our ability to consistently apply a presumption of openness to our FOIA decisions and administrative appeal process.
Additionally, we continue to use technology to enhance our FOIA capabilities. In 2007, we implemented a new browser-based platform (eFOIA) designed specifically to automate much of the workflow for handling Privacy Act and FOIA requests. The system automatically provides people with a letter acknowledging our receipt of their request, while also providing a case tracking number and a telephone number they may call for status inquiries.
The eFOIA system has greatly improved our ability to respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner. In 2009, Social Security responded to over 31,000 FOIA requests, and ended the fiscal year with a backlog of less than three-tenths of one percent of our total cases pending.
You may find more detailed information about our FOIA program, including staffing, organizational structure, and process as well as planned improvements to strengthen our response process at www.ssa.gov/foia/readingroom.html, as well as at Appendix D of this plan.
Social Security's Center for Records Management (CRM), located in the Office of Publications and Logistics Management (OPLM), maintains and oversees agency policies, responsibilities, and procedures for the orderly disposition of records within the agency. These policies include governance of Vital Records and E-mail Retention. For comprehensive information about the agency records management program, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/open/our-records-management-program.html. This site contains information about the agency records management program, including scheduling all electronic records for retention and destruction and ensuring timely transfer to the National Archives.
Social Security receives congressional inquiries by phone, letter, fax, and via the Internet. The inquiries generally involve constituent-related Social Security cases, program policies, or requests for program or agency information. These inquiries most often come into the Office of the Commissioner, local Social Security field offices, the Office of Public Inquiries (OPI), and the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs (OLCA). We respond as quickly as possible to congressional offices, but sometimes it takes time to get the information we need. If we cannot provide a final reply promptly, we will provide an interim response.
In most cases, the office that receives the initial inquiry can fully address the questions raised and provide a response to the congressional office. Others may need to be referred to a different office. When an inquiry is received at headquarters, OPI or OLCA coordinate with all relevant and affected components. No matter which office handles it, we thoroughly research and answer all congressional inquiries.
Our website's home page includes a section titled "Information for Congress." Following the link, www.socialsecurity.gov/legislation, will take visitors to the site for our Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs. This site includes information on agency testimony before Congress, pending Social Securityrelated legislation, legislative proposals and reports we have sent to Congress, and legislative history of significant recent legislation affecting Social Security Act programs.
Goal II: Expand Participation and Collaboration
"We seek a free flow of information...we are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values."
--John F. Kennedy, February 1962
We have a long history of inviting the public to participate and collaborate with us and have greatly benefited from their ideas and opinions. For example, when we consider additions to the diseases included in our compassionate allowance initiative , we hold public hearings to gather information from medical experts, advocates, and individuals interested in the disability process. We use the valuable information and opinions we receive in the forums and other outreach venues to inform our policy decisions. Similarly, when we update our medical listings used in adjudicating disability claims, we publish an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to get ideas from the public before we begin to draft the proposed regulatory changes. Based on an employee suggestion, we participate in a project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to determine whether some of their medical research can streamline disability case decisions.
We want to expand on the successes we have achieved so far through participation and collaboration and further infuse these principles into the way we develop policy, solve problems, and determine public preferences. Using social media is a new venture for our agency. We are developing policies and instituting practices to use this as well as other technology to support participation and collaboration. As we gain experience and get feedback from stakeholders, we will continue to refine these policies, expand practices, and integrate the tools into our mainstream processes.
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Objective 1: Provide the public with easy access to existing channels for participation
During our open government dialogue, we received many ideas about information we should add to socialsecurity.gov. Much of the requested information was already there but difficult to find, so we have highlighted the links to this information on our open government page. Also based on open government dialogue, we posted a top ideas list www.ssa.gov/open/top-ideas.html, reflecting public votes and comments on ideas submitted. The list displays the status of our progress on investigating each idea. We plan to update future progress on these ideas as well as others we receive.
We will offer the public additional access by:
- Informing the public when we adopt an idea submitted through our collaboration and participation portals. We will post feedback at www.socialsecurity.gov/open with continued opportunities for participation;
- Posting information about all Federal Advisory Committee Act groups working on agency issues, so that members of the public can attend events and access relevant information;
- Providing notice of agency-sponsored national public meetings, such as the public hearings on compassionate allowance categories;
- Providing information about other means to provide feedback on various topics related to our programs and services;
- Providing the public with an opportunity to comment on our proposed regulations at www.regulations.gov, our eRulemaking initiative;
- Using webinars (web-based seminars) to inform the public of agency issues and to solicit their questions, reactions and concerns; and
- Using focus groups for public input and usability testing before launching online services.
We currently provide the public with an opportunity to comment on our public use forms and information collection requests, as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act through email at OPLM.RCO@ssa.gov. (A full list of our data collection projects is available at www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAMain.)
A set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective is located in Appendix B, Table 2.
Compassionate Allowances - Collaboration in Developing Disability Policy
Since 2007, the agency has collaborated with the public to determine which medical conditions to include in the Compassionate Allowance process. Compassionate Allowances are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that are so serious that they obviously meet our disability standards.
We developed the initial list of Compassionate Allowance conditions as a result of information we received at public outreach hearings, public comments on an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, comments received from the Social Security and Disability Determination Service communities, and the advice of medical and scientific experts.
In March 2010, we announced an expanded list consisting of 38 more conditions. These additions resulted from holding additional public outreach hearings, working closely with the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer's Association, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, and other groups. We also reviewed information gathered from previous hearings and consulted with our internal expert medical staff.
For more information on our Compassionate Allowances process, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.
Objective 2: Investigate new tools to increase employee participation and collaboration
In addition to expanding our collaboration efforts with the public, we are also committed to increasing employee participation and will build a modern infrastructure necessary to support such efforts. We will begin using these tools internally, and as we gain experience, we will expand for public use as appropriate.
- To support internal collaboration, we installed web collaboration platforms for different segments of our user community. We continue to look at new functionality in existing tools, while researching new offerings that supplement our present tools;
- We are in the process of creating internal capacity to host websites and applications based on open-source software solutions, and we look forward to a lively exchange of ideas and program code within the growing Federal open-source software development community; and
- We are building a new development production environment to enhance innovation by employees throughout the nation.
See Appendix B, Table 2 for a set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective.
Objective 3: Provide new and easier methods for public engagement during agency decision-making processes
We are using social media tools for idea sharing and blogs to engage audiences in discussions about our strategic planning, programs, and services. We are updating our Agency Strategic Plan in FY 2011 and will use these tools to capture public input and feedback during development.
We are investigating the use of innovative tools and practices to create new and easier methods for the public to provide input into the agency decision-making processes. We are exploring the following:
- Providing a web-based calendar displaying certain events at national and local levels, offering the public the opportunity to discuss issues face-to-face with agency leaders;
- Holding town hall meetings to inform individuals and stakeholder groups about our programs and services and get their ideas during policy development;
- Sponsoring competitions and offering prizes to the public for creating beneficial tools and applications using our public datasets; and
- Investigating the use of open government educational webcasts for colleges and universities.
A set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective is located in Appendix B, Table 2.
Goal III: Implement Open Government Flagship Initiatives
Initiative 1: Spanish Retirement Estimator (S-RE)
One of the ideas we received during our Open Government Plan public comment period was to provide greater access to retirement information. This idea is consistent with our Agency Strategic Plan commitment to provide online tools to plan for retirement. One of the hallmarks of our online retirement planning tools is our online Retirement Estimator, which provides users with instant, personalized estimates of their future Social Security retirement benefits. This popular application, which was used almost three million times in FY 2009, consistently ranks as one of the top four online Government applications in public satisfaction surveys.
As part of our commitment to provide services that meet the needs of our nation's diverse population, we plan to offer this online service in Spanish. Developing our online Spanish Retirement Estimator (SRE) is not only one of our flagship initiatives, but it is a major component of our agency's Limited English Proficiency Plan.  This new tool will provide retirement information in Spanish and will be our first online service in a non-English language. This intitiative acknowledges the substantial growth of the Hispanic population, which the U.S. Census Bureau projects will increase from 46.7 million in 2008 to 132.8 million by 2050.
We have engaged both the public and our employees in developing the S-RE. Specifically, we have held public focus groups at various locations around the country and have met with national Hispanic community groups to solicit feedback and suggestions. Internally, employees across the agency have assisted in technical development, policy decisions, and translation efforts.
We will measure the impact and benefits of the S-RE using data about the application's usage, satisfaction levels, and other feedback we receive from members of the public who use it.
Our tentative plan for the project is (Government Fiscal Year 'FY' runs from October 1st - September 30):
- FY 2010
- 3rd Quarter - Create the architecture for the S-RE application
- 4th Quarter - Develop and test the S-RE application
- FY 2011
- 1st Quarter - Integrate the S-RE with our systems
We will determine the specific launch date for the application after testing and integration.
Initiative 2: Online Service Enhancement
We offer our services through a variety of channels. Many of our services are available online at www.socialsecurity.gov or through our automated telephone systems. People can access other services through our toll-free phone number (800-772-1213). Some services still require a visit to a Social Security office. People who need to visit an office and those who prefer an in-person interview have the option of scheduling an appointment at a time which is convenient for them or, they can walk into a Social Security Office without first scheduling an appointment.
To help the public understand our available service options, we will build a new online tool that directs the public to the most appropriate service delivery method for their needs. Through guided search tools, visitors to our website will more readily arrive at the correct service channel, encouraging even more people to use our online services. Additionally, individuals who are unable to complete a Social Security benefit claim application online will be able to electronically schedule an appointment at a Social Security field office.
As we build this service enhancement, we will collaborate with industry experts and will conduct usability testing with the public. Members of the public, as well as agency employees, will provide important insight participating in our online dialogue and submitting other comments and suggestions.
We will use surveys and web analytics to evaluate the impact of this initiative and ensure that users can easily find the services they seek. We will also monitor the number of appointments that are scheduled online and determine the savings associated with this new method of self-scheduling. Since this initiative is part of our growing suite of online services, we will continually improve and expand it to meet the changing needs and preferences of the public.
Our tentative plan for the project is:
- FY 2010
- 2nd Quarter - Planning, analysis, and focus group testing
- 3rd Quarter - Developing the guided search application and appointment mechanism
- 4th Quarter - Testing and integrating the guided search application and appointment mechanism with Social Security's systems
- FY 2011
- 1st Quarter - Training our employees and deploying the appointment mechanism in phases
We will determine the specific launch date for the application after we have fully tested it.
Initiative 3: Online Life-Expectancy Calculator
We are developing a simple, online, life-expectancy calculator to assist the public with retirement planning. A key factor in considering one's retirement options is how long one can reasonably expect to live, yet many people substantially underestimate their life expectancy. Adding a life-expectancy calculator to our suite of retirement planning tools offers additional information to consider. Specifically, the tool will draw on actuarial assumptions from the annual Social Security Trustees' report and will provide the end user with average life expectancies at different ages. It will also be designed for use with our online Retirement Estimator, which provides users with instant, personalized estimates of their future retirement benefits. We expect to launch the life-expectancy calculator during 2010.
To measure the effect of this new service, we will survey users and collect statistics on application usage. We will also collect feedback from the various participation forums we host, as well as from the comments provided through our online collaboration tools. We will post the feedback on our open government web portal www.socialsecurity.gov/open.
Goal IV: Make Open Government Sustainable
At Social Security, we are committed to becoming an even more open and transparent organization. However, we must balance our need to protect the sensitive and personal information we need to administer our critical programs with our desire to be transparent and provide services that meet the needs of the public. The principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration require us to approach our jobs in new ways and learn to think about service in new terms.
Goal IV provides governance structures to oversee these new approaches and plans for changing the culture of the agency so that open government values and principles are woven into the fabric of our workforce. These principles support our longstanding values of providing good service and safeguarding the personal information we maintain.
Objective 1: Foster employee engagement in open government initiatives and work toward culture change by infusing open government values and principles throughout the agency
We will implement open government changes and infuse these new principles and values into our business processes. Our efforts will be comprehensive and continuous. For example:
- We announced the launch of our Open Government web page to all employees, and we incorporated employee suggestions into our Open Government Plan. While it was not submitted through our Open Government web page, one of our flagship initiatives came from an employee who was a finalist in President Obama's SAVE contest;
- We will share our Open Government Plan with all employees on the agency Intranet and send them periodic updates about the plan and our open government activities;
- We will provide our employees with easy access to open government materials on our Intranet site;
- We will incorporate open government principles into appropriate training activities for agency executives, senior managers, and other employees. We will monitor and collect feedback on the training and make adjustments as needed;
- We will create open government honor awards for employees, external individuals, and organizations to recognize achievements in advancing open government principles; and
- Our open government communication plan will include specific actions to involve employees.
See Appendix B, Table 3 for a set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective.
Objective 2: Incorporate open government principles into the way we organize and do our work
The Commissioner and top executives provide overall guidance through their senior operations meetings. Open government will be a key topic in these meetings. To understand the executive leadership functions of Social Security, see the agency organization in Appendix E, Chart 1.
Highlights of actions related to organizational support for open government include:
- We have expanded the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to oversee innovation, IT strategic planning, security, investment management, and open government. The newly-created Office of Open Government coordinates all open government initiatives for the agency. See Chart 2 in Appendix E for the OCIO organization chart.
- The Commissioner created an Open Government Executive Steering Committee to direct the agency's open government activities. This group will be looking at ways to instill open government principles into agency practices, processes, and policies.
- The Commissioner appointed an executive to be accountable for the quality and objectivity of Federal spending information.
- The Executive Internal Control Committee serves as the agency Senior Management Council and is charged with management accountability for oversight of internal controls, including those covering data quality.
Appendix E, Chart 3 contains a listing of components, executives, and functions relevant to open government. A set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective is located in Appendix B, Table 3.
Objective 3: Align open government activities with our mission and strategic goals
We are updating our Agency Strategic Plan (ASP) in 2011. In developing our new plan, we will incorporate our open government plans and activities. Highlights of actions to foster alignment between the ASP and the open government initiative include:
- Chart 4 in Appendix E, which shows examples of how the open government initiatives support the mission objectives and current agency goals;
- Alignment of the next Information Resources Management Plan with open government principles and initiatives; and
- Social Security's open government flagship initiatives - the Spanish Retirement Estimator, Online Service Enhancement, and Life Expectancy Calculator. These projects support the mission, objectives and goals of the agency as well as showcase the value of open government principles in important aspects of our work. They also address feedback received through the public engagement process.
See Appendix B, Table 3 for a set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective.
Objective 4: Provide public access to our open government performance measures and results
We will provide information about open government measures and results. For example:
- We will post our open government goals and our performance against the goals on our website.
- We will review our Agency Performance Plan to identify possible new measures based on open government activities.
- We will link open government initiatives to the achievement of agency results. We will monitor and measure the benefits from open government activities. We expect that open government activities will have a positive effect on agency results. We will continue to closely monitor FOIA requests to identify additional information holdings of high value to the public. We will track our efforts in engaging the public and employees by the volume of calls for information and data. Goodwill created by open government activities may result in higher use of electronic services by the public and higher levels of satisfaction for those who transact business with us online.
You will find a set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective in Appendix B, Table 3.
Objective 5: Support the transfer of open government ideas, tools, and other materials
We are a Federal leader in the use of Health Information Technology (HIT). Our work with the private sector may yield transferable ideas and tools. We will share our results and products from HIT and other innovative endeavors as appropriate. For example:
- We look forward to sharing the products of our open-source platform efforts across the growing Federal open-source development community, as well as partnering with other agencies in future endeavors; and
- We are in the process of designing and developing an Electronic Technology Repository for communities of innovation. We expect this repository to employ open-source social networking and other tools to permit users to better manage agency knowledge, avoid unproductive duplication of effort, and share experiences. The repository will support the storage of shared materials and project artifacts, discussion boards, wikis, blogs, subscription feeds, and other pertinent information. We envision sharing these resources with other Federal organizations as well.
We will continue to actively participate in cross-government workgroups and share best practices. We also plan to:
- Name a focal point for agency open government sharing;
- Share materials we develop for open government implementation; and
- Collaborate extensively with public and private partners.
A set of milestones and expected completion dates for major activities supporting this objective is located in Appendix B, Table 3.
As we move ahead with our plan to become an even more open agency, we look forward to:
- Increasing Transparency, by sharing and being accountable for information that is of genuine interest and value to the public;
- Fostering Participation, by offering a variety of channels for multiple audiences to engage in dialogs with us and provide ideas on how we can improve our programs and services; and
- Furthering Collaboration, by working with other agencies and organizations to exchange ideas for improving our service to the public.
We encourage you to track our progress in implementing our plan by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/open/plan-progress.html.
Appendix A: Federal Transparency Initiatives
We support the President's agenda for the democratization of data. We added two datasets to Data.gov in 2009 and in January 2010, another 14 high value datasets in accordance with Memorandum M-10-06. The chart below shows the datasets and how they met the high value criteria of Data.gov.
High-value information is information that can be used to increase agency accountability and responsiveness; improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations; further the core mission of the agency; create economic opportunity; or respond to need and demand as identified through public consultation. (OMB Memorandum M-10-06, December 8, 2009)
Social Security Datasets on Data.gov
How Social Security Datasets Meet High-Value Criteria
|Data set||Increase agency accountability and responsiveness||Improve public knowledge of agency and its operations||Further core mission of agency||Create economic opportunity||Respond to identified public need and demand|
|2008 Freedom of Information Act Annual Report||♦||♦|
|National Beneficiary Survey (NBS)
|Supplemental Security Income Public-Use Microdata File, 2001 Data||♦||♦|
|Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Public-Use Microdata File, 2001 Data||♦||♦|
|Benefits Data from the Benefits and Earnings Public-Use File, 2004
(Social Security Benefit Information)
|Earnings Data from the Benefits and Earnings Public-Use File, 2004
(Longitudinal Earnings Information of Beneficiaries only)
Social Security's New Planned High-Value Datasets and Information for Data.gov
(To be posted in 2010 and 2011)
|Increase agency accountability and responsiveness||Improve public knowledge of agency and its operations||Further core mission of agency||Create economic opportunity||Respond to identified public need and demand|
New Disability State Agency Processing
-Disability Reconsideration Data for:
-Continuing Disability Review Data for:
-Prototype Case Workload by Participating State Agency (cases in which reconsideration was not held)
-Disability Workload Processed by Federal Entity
State Agency Budget Information
State Agency Processing Times
Number and Percentage of Quick Disability Allowances
Number and Percentage of Compassionate Allowances
FOIA Report for 2009 in machine readable format
FOIA Report for 2010
|Retirement Claims Filed and Cleared||♦||♦||♦||♦|
|Number and Percentage of Retirement Claims Filed via Internet||♦||♦||♦||♦|
|Number and Percentage of Disability Claims Filed via the Internet||♦||♦||♦||♦|
|Internet Usage for Selected Online Transactions||♦||♦||♦||♦|
|Quality Workload Statistics||♦||♦||♦||♦|
|Earnings Public Use File||♦||♦|
|Benefits and Earnings Public Use File||♦||♦|
|National Survey of Children and Families||♦||♦|
|Datasets from Statistical Modernization Initiative||♦||♦|
|Field Office Waiting Times||♦||♦||♦||♦|
|Social Security 800 Number Call Volume and Busy Rate||♦||♦||♦||♦|
|Social Security 800 Number Calls Speed to Answer||♦||♦||♦||♦|
We have been active members of the Data.gov community and work with many other agencies to advance joint releases of datasets and relevant information. This includes, but is not limited to the Security and Privacy Working Group, the Jobs Working Group, and the Health Working Group. We believe that these joint efforts may be fruitful to expose new insights in the need for data and provide opportunities for data challenges on the use of data. We are mindful of all such opportunities. We are also aware of the need to provide the data and information in a context that is understandable and displayed through visualization tools that make sense to the public.
Social Security is a partner agency in the eRulemaking initiative known as the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS), (publicly accessible at www.regulations.gov). We began working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the partner agencies in the development of FDMS in June 2004. We participated in the design of FDMS for three months. The partner agencies worked with EPA and the contractor to design a user friendly system where the public can submit comments on pending regulations. Social Security started using FDMS on September 25, 2006.
Staff members from our Office of Regulations actively serve on several committees in the continued development and modifications to FDMS and the public-facing website, Regulations.gov.
3. IT Dashboard
Social Security is fully compliant with requirements for reporting on the IT Dashboard. Initially our reporting cycle was not aligned with the timing required for Dashboard reporting, but beginning in FY 2010, we have been reporting on a monthly cycle at the beginning of the month, as required. We are looking forward to planned enhancements to the Dashboard that will provide for more flexible reporting and richer data. For more information, visit ITDashboard.gov.
Our responsibilities under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) included:
- Issuing a one-time payment of $250 to nearly 55 million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries;
- Dedicating additional resources to the processing of disability and retirement workloads, and;
- Replacing the National Computer Center.
We developed an overall agency level plan and three program specific plans. We submitted our ARRA Plans to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The Board includes the information in these submissions and reports on the Recovery.gov website. In addition, we submit a Major Communications Report to the Board and OMB on an ad hoc basis, as major communications are released to the public.
We submit a weekly Financial and Activity Report to the Board and OMB. This report shows the total ARRA obligations and total gross outlays from ARRA passage through the end of the report week, as well as major completed activities and major planned activities for the week of the report. These reports are posted on the Recovery.gov website.
To further transparency, we also post the above items to our agency ARRA website and provide links to Recovery.gov, USAspending.gov, and other sites that may be of interest to the public. On our agency website, we also include an overview of the ARRA, our overall agency level plan, the three program specific plans, fact sheets, and ARRA contact information. We also have information about proper communications with lobbyists, information quality, civil rights, and how the Economic Recovery Payment may affect an individual's Federal tax return. For more information, visit www.Recovery.gov.
We are working towards full compliance with the operational guidelines contained in Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-09-19, Guidance on Data Submission under the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA). These guidelines define the requirements for Federal agency use in reporting data to the USAspending.gov website.
FFATA requires information on Federal awards (Federal financial assistance and expenditures) be made available to the public via a single, searchable website. Federal awards include grants, sub grants, loans, awards, cooperative agreements, and other forms of financial assistance as well as contracts, subcontracts, purchase orders, task orders, and delivery orders.
Pursuant to the guidance, Social Security reports contract data and Federal financial assistance payments data. For more information, visit www.usaspending.gov.
OMB M-09-19 requires contract data be provided by the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). It also requires a separate data file containing program source data (i.e., Treasury Account).
We submit contract data directly through the FPDS. We extract program source data from our in-house contract writing system and upload the data file using the USAspending Data Submission and Validation Tool (DSVT). FPDS is being modified to accept program source data, which will eliminate the need for the separate data file.
Federal financial assistance includes grants and assistance payments made under Federal domestic assistance programs listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. Grant and assistance payments data are submitted using the Federal Assistance Award Data System (FAADS) PLUS format.
Financial Assistance Awards - Grants
We extract grants data from our Grants Reporting System, an in-house data base created specifically for meeting the FFATA requirements. We normally submit the data on the 5th and 20th of each month, or the last business day prior to the due date, should it fall on a weekend or holiday. Currently, we submit our grants data via e-mail to USAspending.gov.
We will be migrating to a new grants management system, which includes FFATA reporting capabilities. This new system will allow us to report via the DSVT, which is the required delivery process effective October 1, 2010.
Financial Assistance Payments - Mandatory and Entitlement Programs
We run one of the Nation's largest entitlement programs-the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program. We also administer the Supplemental Security Income program, which provides financial support to aged, blind, or disabled adults and children with limited income and resources. Under FFATA, the payments made under these programs are considered financial assistance. Therefore, we report data about these payments to USAspending.gov.
Social Security is working to meet the M-09-19 FFATA data submission requirements. The agency payment information for these programs in the new FAADS Plus data formats. Our current reporting system was designed to report quarterly, while USAspending requires monthly reporting. We are developing the requirements and migration strategy for a new process that meets all of the requirements of USA spending.
Appendix B: Milestones and Completion Dates
Table 1 - Goal I (Increase Transparency) Milestones and completion dates
|Milestone||Projected Completion Date|
|Conduct an inventory of high value information and datasets||Ongoing effort began in 2009. Target date for completion is 9/2010.|
|Evaluate agency processes to ensure appropriate release of data||Ongoing effort began in 2009 and continues|
|Post at least five new high value datasets/information holdings to Data.gov in 2010||12/2010|
|Post five additional new high value datasets to Data.gov||9/2011|
|Review publicly available information to assure appropriate format||Will be done with Social Security's annual certification and review-12/2010|
|Reach out to key stakeholders to inform them of available information||>Ongoing|
|Enhance our FOIA web page||4/2010: Completed 4/2010|
|Develop Data Quality Framework Plan||4/2010: Completed 4/2010|
Contract data is provided by the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). Agencies reporting contract data to FPDS must also provide Program Source (i.e., Treasury Account) data in a separate file until such time that FPDS has been modified to provide this data field.
We use a Commercial Off The Shelf acquisition application. The interface between this application and FPDS will need to be aligned.
|Alignment based upon FPDS - TBD|
|Migrate to a new grants management system, which includes FFATA reporting capabilities and, thereby, report via the DSVT, which is the required delivery process.||10/2010|
Deliver mandatory and entitlement payment data for 2007-2009 in the new FAADS Plus data format.
This is an interim process. We are evaluating the requirements to migrate from the quarterly FAADS reporting to Census to monthly reporting in the FAADS Plus format per the requirements of M-09-19.
We are currently working with OMB to provide past program payment data.
Dependent on success of the file loading process. Requirements analysis and migration strategy expected to be completed by September 2010.
|Review changes to information dissemination and compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act per April 2010 OMB guidance.||Information dissemination evaluation is ongoing and will reflect 4/2010 OMB guidance and due dates.|
Table 2 - Goal II (Expand Participation and Collaboration) Milestones and Completion Dates
|Milestone||Projected Completion Date|
|Inform public and employees about their ideas adopted from portals||Ongoing|
|Post information about FACA groups online||5/2010: Completed 5/2010|
|Make decision on posting list of national public meetings held by agency||6/2010|
|Use electronic bulletin boards and webinars to inform the public and to obtain public feedback||Ongoing beginning in 9/2010|
|Create internal hosting capacity based on Drupal platform and share experience with Federal community||7/2010|
|Make decision on hosting open government education webcasts for colleges/universities||6/2010|
|Continue portal and idea sharing opportunities for employees||Ongoing|
Table 3 - Goal IV (Make Open Government Sustainable) Milestones and completion dates
|Milestone||Projected Completion Date|
|Issue Draft Open Government Plan (containing Communication Plan Summary) and share it with public and employees||4/2010: Completed 4/2010|
|Establish executive level open government steering committee||Completed|
|Announce new employee honor award for open government||Summer 2010|
|Revised Agency Strategic Plan||2011|
|Annual Performance Plan reflects open government activities||2011|
|Post open government materials on agency Intranet||4/2010: Completed 4/2010|
|Post open government scores on website||As soon as available|
Appendix C: Open Government Communications Plan Summary
We will continuously engage external and internal audiences about our efforts and results on transparency, participation, and collaboration. Specifically, we will:
- Educate and inform external and internal audiences about Social Security's open government activities;
- Collect ideas and feedback from external and internal sources about ways to improve our openness as well as our programs and services; and
- Report on ideas we receive and any progress or action we take on them.
We will foster the public's use of the information we release, in order to increase public knowledge and promote public scrutiny of agency services . Our activities will include face-to-face meetings, conference appearances, social media, and other electronic participation and collaboration tools.
We will use our Internet site (www.socialsecurity.gov) as one platform for sharing information and providing opportunities for participation and collaboration with the public. We will also launch new platforms using a cloud environment. Internally, we will use our agency Intranet as a platform for keeping our employees informed and engaging them in open government ideas and initiatives.
Potential Tools & Tactics
- Blogs and idea tools
- Social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, etc.)
- Electronic newsletters
- Email campaign
- Video and slide presentations
- Town hall meetings with public
- National conferences and other speaking engagements
- Advocate and stakeholder meetings
- Focus groups
- Mobile applications
- Electronic technology repository for collaboration
- Commissioner's messages (email, video, audio)
- Conference phone calls and video teleconferences
- Presentations and workshops for upper management
- Presentations for the regional offices and public affairs specialists
- Town hall meetings with employees
- Employee newsletter and magazine articles
- Focus groups
Appendix D: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Mission and Structure
The Office of Privacy and Disclosure (OPD) is one of the major components within the Office of the General Counsel (OGC). Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/org/ogc.htm to see a copy of OGC's Organization Chart. OPD develops and interprets Social Security Administration policy governing the collection, use, maintenance, and disclosure of personally identifiable information under the Privacy Act, section 1106 of the Social Security Act, section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, and related privacy statutes and regulations. Additionally, OPD develops policy for data exchange agreements governed by the Privacy Act and the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act (CMPPA).\
OPD also directs all FOIA activities within the agency, including developing FOIA policies and procedures, establishing national guidelines for handling FOIA requests, publishing the Annual Report on FOIA activities, and reviewing FOIA and Privacy Act requests and appeals to determine the proper disclosure of records.
OPD Organizational Structure
We employ a "centralized" approach for handling all FOIA requests and appeals submitted to the agency. To accomplish our FOIA mission, OPD's structure includes two Disclosure Policy Development Divisions, each aligned to specific Social Security Regional Offices (visit www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/OPD_OrgChart.htm to see a copy of OPD's Organization Chart and regional alignment). This alignment helps us efficiently and consistently process FOIA requests, and handle disclosure and privacy matters. Regional staff may directly consult with the same core set of analysts on disclosure policy and procedure matters, instead of going through a clearinghouse process that randomly assigns inquiries to a "pool" of analysts.
This arrangement also allows the OPD analyst to become familiar with privacy and disclosure issues that may be unique to a particular geographic region due to State or local laws, or other influencing factors.
How We Process Requests
We receive FOIA requests via the internet, by fax, by email, and through the mail. visit www.foiaonline.gov/foiaonline/action/public/request to go to our internet submission page, or visit www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/ to see our mailing address, email address, and fax number.
Regardless of the submission method, we capture all FOIA requests in our electronic Freedom of Information Act (eFOIA) system. We scan and image all paper requests (mail, email, and fax) into eFOIA, whereas requests submitted through our internet request form go directly into eFOIA. As soon as we enter a request into the system, or a person submits an online request, eFOIA generates an acknowledgement letter. While this letter confirms for the requester our receipt of their request, it also provides a reference number specifically assigned to their case, along with a voice mailbox telephone number the requester can call to inquire on the status of his or her request. OPD maintains a policy of responding to all calls placed to this number within one working day.
Under FOIA, we may charge fees to process certain FOIA requests. The eFOIA system allows requesters to pay online for some routine requests, which accelerates our responsiveness to the public and reduces our administrative costs.
We strive to handle each request within 20 days from the date we receive it. We process requests under a "first in" "first out" basis. However, sometimes it may take us longer depending on the complexity of the request, the amount of records sought, where the documents are located, and how much other work we have.
A complex request may require us to obtain more information from either the requester, or from office(s) within Social Security. A request may require us to seek paper records that we collectively maintain in multiple geographic locations or in archived storage.
Prior to releasing records in response to a FOIA request, OPD conducts a thorough internal review to ensure that we apply our privacy and disclosure rules consistently and accurately. The complexity and nature of each request determines the level of review we require, which can include input and review by other offices within Social Security such as the Office of General Law, the Press Office, or the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs.
We take pride in our ability to act on Privacy Act and FOIA requests in an accurate and timely manner. The result of our efforts in this area can best be seen in our Annual Report (visit www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/annualreports.html to gain access to our annual reports). In 2009, Social Security responded to over 31,000 FOIA requests, and ended the fiscal year with a backlog of less than three-tenths of one percent of our total cases pending. The agency's performance is a testament to the experience and quality of the workforce in OPD. The average analyst has been with Social Security for 22 years and has, on average, 12 years of Privacy Act and FOIA experience.
Social Security continues to strive to improve our capacity and capability to respond to Privacy Act and FOIA requests.
- OPD instituted an in-house FOIA/Privacy Act training program for analysts that focuses on various technical, legal, and "hands-on" issues involved in processing requests. Some of these sessions focus on the administrative processes that arise under FOIA and that can cause unnecessary delay in responding. This training provides a formal platform to emphasize the importance of presumptive disclosure, to discuss recent disclosures, and to examine new possibilities for additional disclosures.
- OPD continues to provide Privacy Act and FOIA training at an agency level through our biennial Privacy and Disclosure Training Conference. This year's conference will include sessions on the importance of openness and transparency in government.
OPD maintains a commitment to use technology to enhance our capabilities. In 2007, OPD implemented a new browser-based platform (eFOIA) designed specifically to automate much of the workflow for handling Privacy Act and FOIA requests. In FY 2010, OPD has released four updates/changes/enhancements to the system, with two more scheduled for release later in the FY to further improve our system.
Appendix E: Charts
Chart 1 - Social Security Administration organization chart
Chart 2 - OCIO organization chart
Chart 3 - Components, executives, and functions relevant to open government
Executive Lead for Open Government
Associate Chief Information Officer for Open Government
Executive Accountable for Publicly Disseminated Federal Spending Information Integrity
Deputy Commissioner for Quality Performance
Open Government Steering Committee Components
Office of the Chief Actuary | Office of the Chief Information Officer
Office of the General Counsel | Office of Budget, Finance and Management
Office of Communications | Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs | Office of Operations | Office of Systems
Office of Quality Performance | Office of Retirement and Disability Policy
Chart 4 - Examples of Alignment between Open Government Initiatives and Agency Strategic Goals
|ASP Goal 1: eliminate our hearings backlog and prevent its recurrence||ASP Goal 2: improve the speed and quality of the disability process||ASP Goal 3: improve our retiree and other core services||ASP Goal 4: preserve the public's trust in our programs|
|OG Goal I: increase transparency||Hearings datasets posted on Data.gov||Post disability data on Data.gov||Post additional program datasets on Data.gov||Enhance our FOIA program to further ensure a "presumption of openness".|
|OG Goal II: expand participation and collaboration||Appointed rep suite of services developed with reps; ASP collaborative tool will provide public with opportunity to provide input for goals and strategies for all issues, including hearings||Compassionate allowances, Health Information Technology, project with MIT||Focus groups, usability testing, electronic town hall meetings||OG portal, Post OG names, public meetings posted, OG scores posted; ASP collaborative tool will provide public with opportunity to provide input for goals and strategies for all issues and programs|
|OG Goal III: Flagship initiatives: Spanish retirement estimator, enhanced online services, and Life Expectancy Calculator||Enhanced online services will help those filing online, including disability claimants||Spanish retirement estimator improves service to Spanish speaking public; Life-expectancy calculator assists the public in deciding the best time to collect retirement benefits|
|OG goal IV: Make OG sustainable||Set up various ways to receive and consider employee and public comments||Set up various ways to receive and consider employee and public comments||Set up various ways to receive and consider employee and public comments||OG Steering Committee, OG portal, OCIO organization|
Appendix F: Useful Links
Links to Social Security webpages:
Information for Congress Legislation
Links to other Websites:
Federal public datasets and information holdings (Data.gov) www.data.gov
General records schedule and National Archives and Records Administration policy www.archives.gov/records-mgmt
Federal IT Dashboard https://itdashboard.gov/
Recovery Act spending reports http://www.Recovery.gov
Federal awards (USA Spending) www.usaspending.gov
 Compassionate allowances are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that often qualify for disability.