Updated: June 1, 2014
Welcome to our Open Government Plan 3.0. This plan reflects our continuing effort to become more transparent to the American public; invite greater public participation in the policies and decisions of our agency; and foster expanded collaboration with the people we serve, advocates, and many government and non-government groups.
I am proud to lead Social Security’s implementation of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative and to carry out our commitments to improve our operations and services in an open and transparent manner. In this plan, you will find a summary of achievements from our second Open Government Plan as well as several new efforts, including a flagship initiative to deliver a Message Center for people using our online services. The centerpiece of this initiative is the suite of services we now offer at my Social Security, where you can securely and conveniently access valuable personalized Social Security information. We are excited to offer additional options for getting information and completing business with us online.
Our Open Government Plan 3.0 also outlines our efforts to improve services including wounded warrior collaboration, health information technology, and data exchanges. We encourage you to review the information on our website and on Data.gov and we welcome your thoughts on additional data and information we should make available to the public.
In putting this refreshed plan together, we sought comments from the public, our employees, and advocates. We appreciate your interest and participation, and welcome your additional insight on ways we can improve our programs and service to you.
Please follow our progress on the milestones in our plan at www.socialsecurity.gov/open/plan-progress-2014.html, and share your thoughts and ideas by sending us a message to email@example.com.
Carolyn W. Colvin
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
Section I: Progress on Open Government Plan 2.0 and Development of Open Government Plan 3.0
Section II: Open Government Goals and Objectives
Section III: Open Government Flagship and Major Initiatives
This plan reflects our commitment to increase transparency, expand participation and collaboration, implement one flagship and three major initiatives, and make open government sustainable at Social Security. We also report on planned actions and commitments in our second Open Government Plan. Overall, we have made strong progress toward our open government goals and objectives.
Transparency: We are committed to sharing information that helps the public understand our programs and hold us accountable for our performance. We release information in a format the public can use. We submit datasets to the Federal Government's document repository at www.data.gov, and we are incorporating feedback on those datasets as we publish additional information. We support the open data initiative, and we are working to build an enterprise data inventory. While we strive to be open and transparent, we must 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 public participation and collaboration. Our open government communications activities include potential tools and tactics for both external and internal audiences. We offer opportunities for participation on our open government website at www.socialsecurity.gov/open and report there on ideas we receive and progress we make. We also use our agency Internet site at www.socialsecurity.gov to share information and provide opportunities for participation and collaboration. We will expand the use of social media tools to discuss our programs and services.
Internalize open government principles: Our Office of Open Government is responsible for coordinating and managing open government initiatives. As of March 2014, the Office of Open Government is part of the Office of the Chief Strategic Officer. Now, agency leadership directing strategic planning and monitoring agency attainment of performance goals also provides direction and oversight of open government goals and initiatives. Our Open Government Executive Steering Committee provides guidance on overall strategic direction. We used open government approaches to develop our new Agency Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/agency/asp/materials/pdfs/plan-2014-2018.pdf - just one example of how we are using open government principles. We plan to use an array of communications activities to foster culture change and promote open government principles in our workforce.
Flagship initiative and other major projects: This plan includes a flagship initiative, Message Center, and three major projects: Wounded Warrior Collaboration, Health Information Technology, and Data Exchanges. These projects underscore the value of open government and support our agency mission, goals, and objectives.
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.
Who We Are and What We Do:
We run two of the nation's largest entitlement programs: the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program and the Supplemental Security Income program. In fiscal year (FY) 2013, we paid 65 million people an average of $850 each month. In addition, we assist people in applying for food stamps and Medicare, including subsidies for the Medicare Prescription Drug Program. For more information on all of our programs and benefits, please visit our Understanding the Benefits web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10024.html.
For examples of alignment of Open Government Plan 3.0 with our Agency Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018, go to Appendix A.
Accomplishments of Open Government Plan 2.0
See Appendix B for a status of the flagship and major initiatives in our 2012 plan. View an item-by-item implementation progress chart on our 2012 plan commitments at www.socialsecurity.gov/open/plan-progree-2012.html.
Development of Open Government Plan 3.0
We solicited ideas and comments from various audiences to help us update our Open Government Plan. We reached out to our traditional advocates through our quarterly national advocate conference calls and our online Social Security Update newsletter at www.socialsecurity.gov/newsletter/. Those venues reach approximately 14,000 organizations and individuals. We reached out to representatives of non-governmental organizations and institutions who had previously conducted the outside review of our initial Open Government Plan. We also announced on Facebook, Twitter, and our open government portal at www.socialsecurity.gov/openopportunities for providing input for the plan.
We invited the public and our employees to provide ideas and to comment and vote on the relevance of others’ ideas through two online engagements:
As of this plan’s release, these engagements drew 499 unique visitors, who contributed a total of 92 ideas, 113 comments, and 704 votes.
In order to reach out to our employees across the country, we included links for both engagements in the agency’s annual Sunshine Week broadcast.
Goal I: Improve Transparency
"In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. And now, we must build on that progress."
--President Barack Obama, September 23, 2010
Social Security will meet the open government principle of transparency through information sharing and accountability
Improving transparency is a multi-faceted effort that includes:
For more information about our involvement in federal transparency initiatives (Data.gov, eRulemaking, Information Technology Dashboard, Recovery.gov, USAspending.gov, and declassification program (per Executive Order 13526)), see Appendix C.
Appendix D describes our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program and how we ensure transparency through a presumption of openness.
Objective 1: Provide high-value information that meets the public's needs
The public accesses Social Security information millions of times each year through the agency’s website at www.socialsecurity.gov. In 2013, we redesigned our web pages and launched our mobile version. We anticipate additional redesigns and presentation changes to improve ease of use on electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones. We are also exploring the use of web content management systems to enable non-technical employees to update and add new content. In identifying and prioritizing changes to the website, we consider public feedback and satisfaction levels.
We present information and data that the public can easily understand and use. Our partnership with Data.gov began in 2009 and provides a platform for public access to our data. We are expanding the information we make publicly available under the Digital Government Strategy and the Open Data Initiative. We outline our implementation of the Digital Government Strategy at www.socialsecurity.gov/digitalstrategy/, displaying milestones that address our data inventory and publication efforts. Our Information Resources Management Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2017 includes a two-year plan of action (www.socialsecurity.gov/irm/IRM_2014.pdf#page=65) to “incorporate data transparency considerations into the systems development lifecycle so that we can release data in standard formats in a more efficient and automated way.”
Changes to the Systems Development Lifecycle to Enable Open Data
In accordance with the Executive Order on Open Data, by June 30, 2014, we will develop checkpoints to capture and promote open data. Our goal is to expand, enrich, and open our data inventory process, by building in automated data publication capabilities early in the systems development lifecycle.
Objective 2: Inform the public about significant planned actions supporting transparency (Public Notice)
We use a variety of communication tools and approaches to support transparency, including our open government portal (www.socialsecurity.gov/open). We foster the use of agency data through ongoing contacts with stakeholders and interested parties. You will find a summary of our communications and outreach actions in Appendix E.
Collaborating with the Department of Justice to Make Social Security Information Available
The Department of Justice’s Limited English Proficiency (LEP) website (www.LEP.gov)now includes our Asian and Pacific Islander language preferences page at www.lep.gov/demog_data/demog_data.html. LEP.gov’s mission is to promote a positive and cooperative understanding of the importance of language access to federally conducted and federally assisted programs.
Objective 3: Provide information to the public on internal management areas
We provide members of the public with information they request either through the FOIA process or through other means, such as our outreach with stakeholders. In addition, we provide information about our programs information about internal management processes, and information people use to make decisions in their lives.
Freedom of Information Act
We operate under a presumption of openness, sharing information with the public about our programs and projects. We believe our FOIA program strongly reflects this commitment. For example, in 2013, we added a link to our FOIA home page (www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/) on every page of our agency’s website so that the American people have greater access to the information we release under FOIA. In addition, last year, we redesigned the content, navigation, look, and feel of our public-facing FOIA website, and we updated our existing web-based FOIA Library with information most requested by the public.
In FY 2013, our agency responded to 39,455 FOIA requests. Our backlog at the end of the fiscal year consisted of only 67 pending requests, representing a scant 0.2 percent of our total FOIA workload for the year.
Social Security’s Exceptional Performance in Processing FOIA Requests
The Center for Effective Government’s “Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard 2014” evaluated the performance of the 15 federal agencies that received the greatest number of FOIA requests in FY 2012. The Social Security Administration was the top performer in processing FOIA requests that year, earning a “B” grade.
We plan to conduct further research on commercial and government off-the-shelf software and the collaborative FOIAonline (https://foiaonline.regulations.gov/foia/action/public/home) tracking and processing tool to fit our FOIA support system. We are searching for a system that allows requesters to track requests electronically. We anticipate examining alternatives to our current automated FOIA support system by the third quarter of FY 2015.
See Appendix D for more information about our FOIA organization, how we process FOIA requests, and initiatives underway to improve our FOIA program. You may find detailed information about our FOIA program at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/.
We created a proactive disclosures web page in our FOIA Library at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/readingroom.html#a0=0, which provides the public a single location to view the records we have proactively released. Of course, due to the personal nature of much of the information in our records, we are unable to post certain records publicly. We review our records on an ongoing basis and assess the feasibility of proactively disclosing information.
Examples of Proactive Disclosures throughout the Agency:
We provide policy makers at our agency, the White House, Congress, and the public policy community with:
We also provide the public with:
Research and statistical material is available in print and online. We make our research and policy publications available on our public website at www.socialsecurity.gov/policy/. You also may find a list of frequently requested statistics at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/List%20of%20Frequently%20Requested%20SSA%20Statistics.pdf.
We provide targeted information related to employment support for beneficiaries:
We have a robust privacy program. Our Office of Privacy and Disclosure leads and participates in a variety of privacy-related activities and workgroups to ensure the agency’s overall privacy compliance. Our compliance documents are:
NOTE: The Social Security Administration is not subject to the provisions of the Federal Agency Data Mining Reporting Act of 2007; therefore, we are not required to prepare Federal Agency Data Mining Reports.
Our Office of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management maintains and oversees agency policies and procedures governing our records. We are taking actions to meet records management requirements in the M-12-18 issued by the Office of Management and Budget on August 24, 2012 by the required due dates. For comprehensive information about our efforts and our records management program, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/records-management/.
Legislation and Congressional Affairs
We provide online access to agency testimony before Congress, information about pending Social Security-related legislation, legislative proposals and reports we have sent to Congress, and histories of significant recent legislation affecting our programs. We post testimony and legislation during the current Congress separately from testimony and legislation for prior Congresses (back to the 104th Congress) so that the most recent information is quick and easy to find. Program resources, such as fact sheets, quick links to actuarial cost estimates for solvency proposals, and budget information are also available.
Our Internet home page includes a section titled "Business & Government" with a drop-down menu where you can find a link for “Congress.” However, much of the information on our legislative program and activities at www.socialsecurity.gov/legislation is of interest to the public as well. The site also links to the legislative histories of Social Security program-related legislation going back to 1935 (www.ssa.gov/history/legislativehistory.html). These histories are a vital resource for researchers, drafters, and analysts.
In addition to our ongoing effort to update the site as time and resources permit, we continue building our online repository of materials that may be of interest either for historical reasons or to promote transparency. For example, since the publication of our 2012 Open Government Plan, we have added four years of content to our repository of legislation and testimony from previous periods (the 105th and 104th Congresses).
We receive congressional inquiries by phone, letter, fax, and via the Internet. The inquiries generally involve constituent-related Social Security issues, 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, state disability determination services, and our Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs.
In most cases, the office receiving the initial inquiry addresses the questions raised and provides a response to the congressional office. No matter which office handles an inquiry, program experts thoroughly research and respond to all congressional inquiries.
Goal II: Expand Participation
"We're also soliciting the best ideas from our people in how to make government work better."
---President Barack Obama, September 2011
We will continue to invite the public to participate with us in open government. We greatly benefit from their ideas and opinions. We want to expand on the successes we have achieved and further infuse participation principles into:
We will support public participation by:
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Objective 1: Provide the public with easy and visible access to participate with Social Security
In 2012 and 2013, to solicit and prioritize ideas from disability partners and the public on evaluating the disability determination process, we used a crowd-sourcing tool for public engagements. We plan additional outreach efforts for the next several years to solicit input from disability partners and the public early in the process to help in the development of disability policies and procedures. In the next two years, we will solicit ideas about various topics in the disability determination process, such as documentation requirements for medical listings evaluations and how we decide if disability benefits should continue or end. We will also consider using a crowd-sourcing tool to solicit and prioritize feedback from our agency components about the implementation and use of revised disability determination policies.
We maintain a proactive approach in providing the public with information and engagement opportunities that are easy to access, such as webinars. In the last few years, we produced and hosted more than 25 interactive web events on a variety of topics, including our representative payee program, Social Security’s importance to young workers, and online business services. We presented a webinar titled “Benefit Verification Letters Online, Easy as 1-2-3” to advocates, social service agencies, and other third parties as a way to demonstrate the ease and convenience of our online service options, more specifically the access to benefit verification letters.
Our Ticket to Work Program also presents a recurring series of Work Incentive Seminar Events (WISE), designed to educate beneficiaries about the Ticket to Work program and available work incentives. These WISE webinars cover important topics for Social Security beneficiaries, including self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities, free support services for young adults in transition to work, and choosing appropriate service providers.
Objective 2: Provide new and easier methods for public involvement in our program administration
We are using social media tools to engage audiences in discussions about our strategic planning, programs, and services. We strengthened our online communications by forming a Social Media Response Team. Our team moderators respond to comments users post on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, answering questions from the public on a wide variety of our programs and services. The moderator responses to individuals often are helpful to our larger base of Facebook fans and Twitter followers. The Social Media Response Team has responded to over 1,000 inquiries in the last year, providing direct responses to questions and links to our online services or more detailed information to enhance the public’s understanding of our programs. Our fans and followers numbers have increased by tens of thousands, and we believe our more vibrant, interactive forum has contributed significantly to the growth.
To further foster participation, we enhanced our online communication tools to facilitate communications and community building with external audiences. We redesigned our web pages in 2013 as we launched our mobile version of www.socialsecurity.gov. Concurrently we updated our other web pages, including the open government portal at www.socialsecurity.gov/open and the FOIA Library at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/readingroom.html to help the public more easily find information about our programs and our available online services.
Continuing our efforts to reach our audience, in March 2013, we increased our social media outreach. Building on our success with establishing a Social Media Board to oversee the creation and posting of daily messages on our Facebook and Twitter sites, we added an Internet social media hub (www.socialsecurity.gov/socialmedia/), a directory of digital communication channels that helps us reach a broader audience and engage citizens. We will update our hub with additional information related to policies that govern agency use of social media and social media tools. Information on the hub will support others in the agency who plan to use social media tools to communicate with their external audiences, such as advocacy groups, congressional staff, the press, potential staff recruits, and partners.
Compassionate Allowances—Participation and Collaboration in Developing Disability Policy
Compassionate Allowances are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that are so serious that they obviously meet our disability standards, based on minimal objective medical information. Since 2007, we have collaborated with the public, the National Institutes of Health, Alzheimer's Association, National Organization for Rare Disorders, policy researchers, and our own expert medical staff to determine which medical conditions to include in the Compassionate Allowance process. In 2008, we developed the initial list of 50 Compassionate Allowance conditions based on information we received at public outreach hearings (we have held seven Compassionate Allowances public outreach hearings), public comments on an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, input from our employees, and the advice of medical and scientific experts.
To date, we have approved more than 200,000 people with severe disabilities through this fast-track disability process. We actively work to increase the number of conditions identified as Compassionate Allowances. On January 13, 2014, we announced 25 new Compassionate Allowances conditions, bringing the total list of conditions to 225.
Goal III: Increase Collaboration
"Creating a more Open Government requires a sustained commitment by public officials and employees at all levels of government; it also requires an informed and active citizenry."
---The Second United States National Action Plan, December 2013
We reach out to external organizations in support of public service and greater openness across government. We plan to expand on our to-date progress through additional collaborative efforts.
Objective 1: Improve collaboration with government and non-government entities
We will expand our innovative partnerships and use technology to improve collaboration within and outside our agency.
Here are just a few examples of our ongoing collaboration efforts:
Objective 2: Collaborate with others to provide new and easier methods for public and employee engagement during agency decision-making processes
We will post information at www.socialsecurity.gov/open/ to provide the public with information about collaboration opportunities. In addition to expanding our engagement with the public, we also are committed to increasing employee participation and are building a modern infrastructure necessary to support such efforts. Our use of a tool called IdeaCAT is one example of how we are collaborating to improve employee satisfaction, openness to new ideas, and overall customer service. The IdeaCAT team was one of the first recipients of our agency’s Open Government Honor Award.
We developed IdeaCAT in September 2010 based on lessons learned from the collaborative development of the Electronic Claims Analysis Tool (eCAT), a tool to document the analysis of a disability case. IdeaCAT is a web-based, crowd-sourcing tool that allows users to submit ideas for enhancements to eCAT. IdeaCAT allows users to vote and comment on the ideas that others submit. This tool helps prioritize improvements to eCAT.
The entire IdeaCAT process is transparent because the IdeaCAT team provides feedback and status on comments via its web page and newsletters. In addition, IdeaCAT posts all comments without moderation, permitting the user community to "police" the discussion if necessary.
Goal IV: Internalize Open Government Principles
Our guiding principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration require us to approach our jobs in new ways and learn to think about service in new terms. In keeping with these principles, we are implementing the Digital Government Strategy tenets and requirements across the agency. We update our Digital Government Strategy Report quarterly at www.socialsecurity.gov/digitalstrategy/.
Objective 1: Infuse Open Government principles throughout the agency
We will remain committed to infusing open government principles into our business processes.
Open Government Honor Award
In 2013, we honored three teams with our Open Government Honor Award, a Commissioner-level award recognizing employee efforts in promoting an open and transparent government. The three recognized teams were:
The Limited English Proficiency Video Vignette Team, which collaborated with agency components and 13 other agencies to produce a video training series that gives federal employees training to better recognize and provide service to individuals with limited English proficiency;
The Health IT Partnership Team, which applied the principles of participation, collaboration, and transparency to establish a health records exchange with 20 providers in 19 states and Washington, DC; and
The Cook County Jail Secure Messaging Team in the Chicago Region, which set up a streamlined approach to prisoner reporting employing the Government Services Online secure messaging system.
Objective 2: Incorporate open government principles into the way we organize and do our work
To understand our executive leadership structure, see the agency organization in Appendix F, Chart 1.
Highlights of actions related to organizational support for open government include:
We also support open government through internal processes and systems. Some examples include:
A Message to All SSA and DDS Employees
Subject: Imagine the Future: Serving America in 2025 – Let Us Hear from YOU!
Hello, I am Ruby Burrell, SSA’s Chief Strategic Officer, and I am pleased to share with you the exciting work we are doing to help the agency map out new paths for serving the American public in the next 10 to 15 years. We also are eager to get your input on this important topic.
My team, the Office of the Chief Strategic Officer, is working with the National Academy of Public Administration, to develop a long-range vision and high-level strategic plan – we call it “Vision 2025” – to better position us to meet the long-term future service needs of our diverse customer population. We see Social Security’s 2025 service delivery model using new and innovative technologies to deliver great service and value to the American people. We are thinking beyond smartphones, tablets, and wristwatches to ready ourselves for yet unrealized technology that could lead to service channels and platforms we cannot yet imagine.
Of course, we will continue to need the efforts of our invaluable employees, who will use these high-tech venues, tools, and virtual settings, to process our work and administer our programs and services.
So please join us in imagining the future! We have established an online engagement forum for you to participate in our discussions and contribute your perspective on how we will serve America in 2025. I invite you to share your ideas through our Vision 2025 forum, which will be available through May 2.
Chief Strategic Officer
Objective 3: Align open government activities with our mission and strategic goals
We incorporated open government principles in developing the plan for our updated Agency Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018 (www.socialsecurity.gov/asp/plan-2014-2018.pdf), released in March 2014. We used broad-based internal and external engagements to determine the appropriate goals and strategies. We will infuse open government principles into our implementation of those strategies, and into our methods for measuring our performance against the goals. In addition, the Information Resources Management Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2017 (www.socialsecurity.gov/irm/IRM_2014.pdf), also released in March 2014, includes the technology framework for supporting our open government efforts.
We are in the process of developing a long-term strategy to help prepare the agency for success in the years ahead. As we develop this strategy, we are asking questions such as, “How should Social Security operate differently in the next 10-15 years to accomplish its mission?” and “How might a changing operational environment affect Social Security’s ability to deliver services effectively and efficiently in the future?” Work on a long-term strategy is vital, as it will allow us to proactively anticipate and address challenges, and position us well to take advantage of new opportunities when they arise.
Highlights of alignment between agency mission, strategic goals, and major agency efforts and the open government initiative include:
Objective 4: Provide public access to our open government performance measures and results
We provide information about open government measures and results. For example:
Objective 5: Support the transfer of open government ideas, tools, and other materials
We support the transfer of open government across the agency. Some actions underway include:
Internal Social Enterprise Platform
An organization as large and geographically dispersed as our agency must harness the collective talent and expertise of employees to solve problems. In 2013, we benchmarked the use of innovation management systems at other agencies and in the private sector to identify industry best practices and leveraged the project experience of our staff. We piloted one tool to assess its suitability in 2012 and 2013, which we named SSA Engage. We are using the lessons from that experience to explore the best options for an enterprise platform. Meanwhile, we continue to use SharePoint throughout the agency, as well as crowd-sourcing tools. Recommendations to create an environment for exchange of ideas and to harness collective talent (blogs, social software, etc.) are included in several agency-level human capital plans currently under review. Our Information Resources Management Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2017, states our commitment to “explore and expand internal social enterprise platform to allow employees agency-wide to take part in knowledge sharing…”
Section III: Open Government Flagship and Major Initiatives
Each of the initiatives in this section supports at least one of the open government principles, furthering our efforts to improve transparency, participation, or collaboration.
Open Government Flagship Initiative—Message Center
Overview - When fully implemented, the public can access alerts, announcements, email, and online notices through our secure Message Center within my Social Security accounts. Agency employees will securely communicate with the public through the Message Center application by posting alerts and announcements, emailing, and providing online notices. As a way to expand capability across applications and platforms, we will also provide high-quality support through video communications, click-to-talk, instant messaging features, and screen sharing within my Social Security and other parts of our Internet site. The Message Center will allow us to provide online support to anyone, anywhere, at any time. The Message Center supports transparency and responds to customer requests for these services.
By FY 2015, we plan to release generic alerts, such as alerts about office closures or new applications announcements within my Social Security. These alerts will not contain personally identifiable information. The public will receive these alerts via their personal email or text messages, per the individual’s request. In addition, we will provide an online notice and a click-to-talk feature.
Public outreach - To ensure we are meeting the public’s needs; we will elicit user feedback as part of the development for Message Center.
Measurement of improvement – During our first year, we will track usage and develop ongoing metrics. We expect to measure the number of registrants and the level of activity. We anticipate that increased information sharing will provide high-quality service without adding to the backlog of customers seeking service, and reduce the burden on our frontline employees. We may use processing time, accuracy, and customer satisfaction measures to assess improvement in transparency and access to information and services.
Sustainability and continued improvement - The launch of the Message Center is part of an ongoing plan to develop a broad range of online services within my Social Security. As public demand for online services increases, the Message Center plays a foundational role in our online communications strategy.
1. Health Information Technology (IT)
Health information technology (IT) will reduce the time to obtain the medical records needed to support disability determinations and will help us manage that information more efficiently. Using health IT provides:
We developed this initiative based on input from and collaboration with medical associations, health privacy advocates, medical providers, and state and federal agencies such as Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD). We collaborated with a growing number of partners to prove – in a live production setting – the capability to obtain and process medical records faster using health IT. Health IT fully automates the process for obtaining medical evidence. The time it takes us to complete a disability claim should decrease as the number of treating sources using health IT increases. By the end of FY 2013, we had partnerships with various medical networks and providers in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
We plan to continue our outreach efforts in FYs 2014, 2015, and 2016, to include additional medical providers and connect with VA and DoD on the eHealth Exchange. The eHealth Exchange is a community of partners who share health information under a common trust framework and a common set of rules. We will also continue to collaborate with government-wide health IT policy and standards setting advisory panels, workgroups and task forces. We participate in these committees to ensure that Social Security’s unique business needs are included in national standards and policies. For example, we participate on the Office of the National Coordinator’s, Policy Committee’s Privacy and Security Task Force that focuses on resolving questions related to health care records and the protection of personally identifiable information.
Each year, we make about three million initial disability claim determinations. In FY 2012, about 17,000 initial claims contained health IT medical evidence, about 0.5 percent of the workload. In FY 2013, about 45,000 initial claims contained health IT medical evidence, an increase to about 1.5 percent of the total initial claims. We anticipate this percentage reaching 2.5 percent in FY 2014 and 4 percent in FY 2015.
2. Wounded Warrior Collaboration
We are collaborating with the VA and DoD to improve the transfer of medical information and speed the disability decision process for Wounded Warriors, service members, and veterans. We are using a two-phased approach to improve health information sharing with DoD. The initial phase uses existing electronic data sharing technologies to automate the exchange of medical information. Using this approach, records from all DoD medical treatment facilities are sent via a single request from the state disability determination service. The request goes to a centralized DoD site, which pulls a standard set of information from available electronic records. We implemented this process nationwide at the end of FY 2012. It has proven to be much more timely and efficient for both our agency and the DoD. We have had a similar semi-automated process in place with the VA since 2006.
The phase-two plan reflects our long-term approach and aims to improve medical information sharing by using the federal eHealth Exchange to request and receive medical records from DoD and VA, just as we do with other health IT partners. We plan to launch a pilot in 2014. In preparation for the pilot, the DoD and VA will implement solutions to process patient authorizations for the release of protected health information that comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rule.
3. Data Exchanges--Plans for Improvement and Expansion
We share certain electronic information through agreements with federal, foreign, state, local, and private organizations. This data typically contains personal information, and agencies disclose it in accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, and specific legal authorities, using secure transmission methods to protect the information. We share our information to eliminate manual processes, reduce the burden on citizens in obtaining benefits across agencies, reduce improper payments, enhance the administration of our programs as well as other public programs, or for the advancement of research. Detailed information about our data exchange program is located at www.socialsecurity.gov/dataexchange.
Current and Planned Enhancements
We look forward to new opportunities in the coming years to expand on our open government initiatives. Specifically, we will continue to:
Examples of Alignment of our Open Government (OG) Plan
with our Agency Strategic Plan (ASP) Goals
ASP Goal 1:
ASP Goal 2:
ASP Goal 3:
ASP Goal 4:
ASP Goal 5:
Deliver Innovative, Quality Services
Strengthen the Integrity of Our Programs
Serve the Public through a Stronger, More Responsive Disability Program
Build a Model Workforce to Deliver Quality Services
Ensure Reliable, Secure, and Efficient Information Technology Services
OG Goal I: Improve Transparency
Provide direct access to information and notices for individuals and designated third parties
Modernize and improve our system for recording earnings and encouraging workers to verify their earnings
Update appellate and other disability program datasets
Expand use of agency data to enable our adjudicators to improve the accuracy of their decision-making
Produce webinars to increase customers’ understanding of our programs, as well as inform them of our policies and requirements
OG Goal II: Expand Participation
Use crowd-sourcing tools for policy development
Use focus groups, usability testing, electronic town hall meetings, and webinars to foster participation
Develop and maintain social media policies and practices for our employees
Expand the availability of online applications using responsive design
OG Goal III: Increase Collaboration
Partner with other agencies and community organizations to provide service to Native Americans
Collaborate with other federal agencies to identify common solutions to protecting and securing customers’ information
Work with the Department of Labor to update our occupational information; partner with other agencies and organizations to further modernize key aspects of our disability process
Update and expand use of IdeaCAT and other adjudicative tools
Share electronic medical information through data exchanges and expedite processing of disability claims
Goal IV: Internalize Open Government
Foster use of programmatic data internally
Set up various ways to receive and consider employee input on policies and procedures
Support use of internal tools such as IdeaCAT
Maintain Open Government Steering Committee and Commissioner-level open government honor award
Use Work Incentive Seminar Event webinars to reach people with disabilities, as well as educate agency employees on our employment support programs; explore and expand enterprise social media platforms
Flagship: Message Center
Support innovative, quality online services
Build out the infrastructure for enhanced communications around online services
Status of Flagship Initiatives in 2012 Open Government Plan 2.0
View an item-by-item implementation progress web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/open/plan-progress-2012.html#a0=0 reporting on commitments in our Open Government Plan.
We completed the flagship and three major initiatives in our previous Open Government Plan on schedule. Below is a brief summary of each initiative.
Flagship: Enhanced Services for People Receiving Benefits
To make our services even more accessible, this initiative consolidated our existing online services into a single “gateway,” which uses a robust and easy-to-use authentication process to safeguard personal identity information. We wanted to provide a common online user experience that is flexible enough to meet the needs of our broad customer base. Our goal was to enable expanded use of our online services and to make those services easy to use. Because we complete over 100 million actions to keep beneficiaries’ records current each year, we want to offer those people who can help themselves a convenient way to do so.
As we built the gateway to services, we used participatory tools and approaches to evaluate its impact and benefit. We collaborated with industry experts and conducted usability testing with the public. Members of the public, as well as our employees, provided important insight through our online dialogue and by submitting comments and suggestions.
We use surveys and web analytics to evaluate the impact of this initiative and to identify future enhancements. This initiative is a key part of our growing suite of online services, and we will improve it as necessary to meet the changing needs of the public.
NOTE: We update our customer satisfaction survey results each year on Data.gov at https://catalog.data.gov/dataset/social-security-administration-data-on-overall-customer-service-satisfaction-c9b99.
We established the following customer service standard: Our quarterly ACSI score average will remain above the level considered as a "top performer" (80) by ACSI.
Health Information Technology Initiative
In the first phase of this initiative, we planned to expand exchange of medical records through health information technology (IT) to various medical networks and providers in 13 States. We completed this milestone in FY 2012. Next, we planned to continue our outreach efforts to onboard additional medical providers and connect with the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the eHealth Exchange (formerly known as Nationwide Health Information Network ). Efforts are ongoing to capture, prioritize, and implement requirements (technical and policy) for this exchange. In FY 2013, we expanded our efforts with 4 additional partner organizations, bringing the total exchanges to 20 providers in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Virtual Life Electronic Record Wounded Warrior Collaboration
This initiative supported nationwide expansion of the DoD/Social Security Interim Health Data Sharing Initiative. Nationwide expansion began in April 2012; we completed it in August 2012.
We also planned to pilot health IT exchange with other federal agencies using the eHealth Exchange. We are working with DoD and VA on an ongoing basis to determine how to extract and package clinical data we need and to validate patient authorizations electronically. We expect to pilot this activity by December 2014.
We planned to make eAuthorization available for claimants filing online. We accomplished this in April 2012. We also planned to make eAuthorization available for claimants who file an online disability appeal. We completed this on August 11, 2012. Additionally, we wanted to expand eAuthorization (form SSA-827) to first-party appeals filed online. We now offer adults filing an Internet Disability Report - Appeal (i3341) on their own behalf to electronically sign and submit the SSA-827. Effective December 2012, adults can use our attestation process to sign and submit form SSA-827 during in-office or telephone interviews.
We intended to explore alternatives for third party filers and accomplished this by making available the telephone or in-person attestation process when a third party completes an online application or appeal forms.
Federal Transparency Initiatives
We support the President's agenda for the democratization of data. We added datasets to Data.gov in the past several years in accordance with Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-10-06 and the overall principles outlined in the Digital Government Strategy.
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. We receive ideas and comments from employees and the public about additional datasets and information that they wish to see posted. We use this input, along with executive guidance, in our strategic planning process to ensure that the principle of transparency becomes part of our ongoing operating procedures. The input also helps prioritize our ongoing release of datasets and information not previously available to the public.
We are 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 other partner agencies in the development of FDMS in June 2004. We and the other partner agencies worked with EPA and the contractor to design a user-friendly system where the public can submit comments on pending regulations. We started using FDMS on September 25, 2006.
Staff members from our Office of Regulations actively serve on several committees in the ongoing development and modifications to FDMS and the public-facing website at www.regulations.gov.
Information Technology Dashboard
In response to evolving Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reporting requirements and enhancements to the Information Technology (IT) Dashboard, we simplified processes and procedures for reporting program performance data and ensuring the quality and timeliness of the data. We increased our focus on the initial quality of reports. As a result, while we review at both the program team and program management levels, there are fewer errors to delay processing. In addition, we increased the frequency of our regular updates to Dashboard data in the area of project performance against established performance measures. This change enhanced the accuracy of performance information, project execution data, risks, and all facets of our major IT investment submissions and ensured that Dashboard reporting is as close to real time as possible.
For more information, visit www.whitehouse.gov/open/innovations/it-dashboard.
Our responsibilities under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) included:
We completed implementation for nearly all activities funded by ARRA with the exception of construction of our new data center. We expect to complete construction by July 2014 and complete migration to the new data center by the end of fiscal year 2016.
To further transparency, we post ARRA-related information on our ARRA website and provide links to Recovery.gov, USAspending.gov, and other sites that may be of interest to the public.
For more information, visit www.Recovery.gov.
System for Award Management - SAM.gov
Social Security is a voting member of and participates in the Change Control Board, a group that approves and prioritizes enhancements across shared services platforms, specifically www.sam.gov.
Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act - FSRS.gov
We provided three individuals to participate on the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act Subaward Reporting System (FSRS) focus group, which will be working on incorporating and improving the FSRS functionality into SAM.gov. We also participate in the Interagency Award Environment focus group.
Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance - CFDA.gov
We maintain full descriptions for the public about our grant programs on the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance website at www.cfda.gov. Whenever there are major changes to existing programs or new programs are added to our portfolio, we submit this information to the site. Potential grantees can use this site to find out the objectives, proper uses, and eligibility requirements for our programs.
The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) requires information on federal awards be made available to the public via a single, searchable website. Accordingly, OMB established the USAspending.gov website. To improve transparency and provide the public information regarding how we are using the resources entrusted to our agency, we use USAspending.gov to post details regarding our, contracts, grant activity, and benefit payments. Our benefit payments include those obligated from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance trust funds, as well as those under the Supplemental Security Income and Special Veterans Benefits programs.
OMB issued guidelines for reporting spending data to the USAspending website in Memorandum M-09-19, Guidance on Data Submission under FFATA. In June 2013, OMB issued guidelines requiring agencies to assure the quality of financial data on USAspending.gov by validating information submitted through the portal. We expect to be in full compliance with these guidelines.
OMB M-09-19 requires us to provide contract data to the Federal Procurement Data System Next Generation (FPDS-NG), which posts the data to USAspending.gov. It also requires us to provide a data file containing program source data (i.e., Treasury Account) directly to USAspending.gov via the USAspending Data Submission and Validation Tool (DSVT) until USAspending is capable of accepting program source data from FPDS-NG.
Federal Financial Assistance
OMB M-09-19 requires us to submit grant and assistance payments data using the Federal Assistance Award Data System (FAADS) PLUS format. Federal financial assistance includes grants and assistance payments made under federal domestic assistance programs listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance.
Open Procurement and Vendor Outreach
In accordance with the guidance contained in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy's February 2, 2011 memorandum on addressing misconceptions to improve communication with the industry during the acquisition process, we developed and published a formal Vendor Communication Plan at www.socialsecurity.gov/oag/acq/SSA%20Vendor%20Communication%20Plan.pdf. This plan discusses the steps we will take to enhance outreach to our industry partners and reduce unnecessary barriers to competition in the procurement process.
Additionally, to further facilitate exchanges with industry and promote internal market research efforts, we created a centralized repository that allows interested vendors to submit capability statements and other marketing information to our agency. This tool is a searchable database that will help agency personnel to identify qualified sources of supply and services and to promote exchanges of important procurement information with industry. View guidance on the use of our vendor repository at www.socialsecurity.gov/oag/Vendor_Repository.pdf.
Freedom of Information Act Program
We employ a centralized approach for handling all Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and appeals submitted to the agency. Our centralized approach fosters uniformity in training, which enhances our ability to consistently apply a presumption of openness in our FOIA decisions and administrative appeal processes. The Office of Privacy and Disclosure (OPD) 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. Agency offices support OPD's efforts by providing documents and other information that responds to the incoming FOIA requests. One agency component in the Office of Operations is responsible for responding to all FOIA requests seeking information regarding applications for Social Security cards.
OPD's Organization Chart and regional alignment is available at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/OPD_Organization_Chart.pdf.
How We Process Requests
We receive FOIA requests via the Internet, by fax, by email, and through the mail. Visit our Make a FOIA Request web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/request.html to learn how to make a FOIA request. We capture all FOIA requests in our electronic Freedom of Information Act (eFOIA) system.
We scan and image all requests submitted by mail, email, and fax into eFOIA; requests submitted using our online 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. This letter confirms receipt of the request and provides the requester with their FOIA tracking number. Additionally, the letter supplies a telephone number to an automated voicemail system that 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.
We may charge fees to process certain FOIA requests. The eFOIA system provides members of the public with the option to mail a FOIA request or to submit their requests and pay the fee online, which accelerates our response and reduces our administrative costs.
We process requests on "first in, first out" basis. We strive to handle each request within 20 days from the date we receive it. However, sometimes it may take us longer depending on the complexity of the request, the volume of records sought, the location of the documents, and our workload. 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 extent of our level of review, which can include input and review by other offices within our agency.
We are improving our ability to respond to Privacy Act and FOIA requests in an accurate and timely manner. In FY 2013, we convened a FOIA Business Process Work Group that reviewed all aspects of our FOIA workflow, from the time we receive and log in a request, to the final review before we release documents. We immediately implemented the workgroup's recommendations to create a FOIA Desk Guide and an analyst Case Summary sheet. Based on the workgroup’s recommendation, we also added a FOIA Library section to our color-coded case tracking sheets.
OPD maintains 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 processing issues that can cause unnecessary delays 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 maintains a strong commitment to encourage and provide staff the opportunity to attend FOIA training from external sources, such as that sponsored by or in conjunction with the Department of Justice, university programs, and not-for-profit organizations. We conducted several in-house training sessions to push our technology advances. These training sessions included an overview of our shared drive to process requests electronically using Adobe Acrobat and e-Discovery software.
We use technology to enhance our FOIA capabilities:
Open Government Communications Actions
We engage external and internal audiences about our efforts and results on transparency, participation, and collaboration. Specifically, we:
In order to increase public knowledge and promote public scrutiny of agency services, we foster the public's use of the information we release. Our activities in this area include in-person meetings, conference appearances, social media, and other electronic participation and collaboration tools.
We use our Internet site (www.socialsecurity.gov) as a platform for sharing information and providing opportunities for participation and collaboration with the public. Internally, we use our Intranet as a platform for keeping our employees informed and engaging them in open government ideas and initiatives. We also use GovDelivery for interested members of the public to get notifications automatically when we update certain web pages.
Tools & Tactics
Externally we use:
Internally we use:
Chart 1 - Social Security Administration organization chart
Chart 2 - Office of the Chief Strategic Officer
Chart 3-Principal Open Government Executives and Components
Executive Lead for Open Government
Alan Lane, Executive Director of Open Government
Executive Accountable for Publicly Disseminated Federal Spending Information Integrity
Pete Spencer, Deputy Commissioner for Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management
Open Government Steering Committee Components
In August 2013, we published a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman (WPO) web page to serve as an educational tool for our employees about whistleblower protections. The page includes contact information for the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) WPO, background information on whistleblower protection and answers to commonly asked questions (http://oig.ssa.gov/whistleblower-protection).
In accordance with the Administration’s second “Open Government National Action Plan for the United States of America,” our WPO is working in conjunction with the agency’s Office of Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity (OCREO), to ensure that we and our OIG meet the requirements of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s Title 5 United States Code section 2302(c) Certification Program.
The WPO, in conjunction with OCREO, will take the following steps to inform our employees of their rights and remedies under the prohibited personnel practices and whistleblower retaliation protection provisions of Title 5 of the United States Code:
Refreshed Plan Milestones and Completion Dates: 2014—2016
To view our progress on the Open Government Plan milestones, please see our implementation progress chart at www.socialsecurity.gov/open/plan-progress-2014.html.
Goals I –IV: Transparency, Participation, Collaboration, Internalizing
Issue refreshed Open Government Plan and share it with public and employees
Post new high-value datasets/information holdings to Data.gov in 2014, 2015, and 2016
Foster use of agency data and solicit input from the public for prioritizing future data releases
Build an application to register new and update existing data assets
Within the data creation process, develop checkpoints to capture and promote open data
Incorporate data transparency considerations into the systems development lifecycle so we can release data in standard formats in a more efficient and automated way
Engage the public in providing input for disability program policy development
Provide the public with the opportunity to comment on our proposed regulations
Hold additional engagements on other potential areas for regulations changes
Provide information on other means to provide feedback on various topics
Use focus groups for public input and usability testing before launching online services
Hold engagements with the public and advocates regarding agency’s services and programs
Further enhance our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) website and online reading room
Review FOIA cases to determine practicality of posting information on FOIA Library
Examine alternatives to FOIA system
Add items to the Proactive Disclosure web page
Give open government honor awards for employees to recognize achievements in advancing open government principles
Post our open government goals and our performance against the goals on our website
Build our online repository of congressional and legislative materials that may be of interest either for historical reasons or to promote transparency
Expand the use of social media tools to support transparency, participation, and collaboration
Improve the open government portal
Participate in projects with the Department of Treasury’s Do Not Pay Program
Review the Annual Performance Plan to incorporate open government principles and activities
Display Whistleblower Protection informational posters throughout the agency and post to appropriate agency intranet pages
Provide new employees with written materials about the Whistleblower Protection Act
Issue statement to all agency employees about the Whistleblower Protection Act
Prepare and begin to show all new hires a video on demand to educate them about the Whistleblower Protection Act