Communication between an Inspector General’s office and the U.S. Congress is more open and ongoing than you might think.
This Wednesday, for example, Inspector General O’Carroll testified at a public hearing in Washington. The Congress invites the IG to testify on Social Security issues four or five times a year. Wednesday’s hearing, held by the House Ways and Means Committee, Human Resources Subcommittee, focused on payment errors in the Supplemental Security Income program.
The SSI program provides monthly payments to the most needy disabled and elderly (65 or older) people, so they can buy food and clothes and pay for housing. About 8 million people receive SSI each month. The average payment in June 2012 was $517.
How much individuals earn, what bank accounts they maintain, if they’re married—all of these things can affect SSI eligibility or payment amount.
As you might expect, SSI recipients don’t always report to SSA things that can reduce the amount of money they receive. They are not necessarily trying to cheat the government out of money; sometimes they don’t know what they have to report, or how to report it.
But if SSA doesn’t have the right information, they can make errors in SSI payments, often paying people too much money. Then they have to try to collect that money, which can cause a hardship and costs money as well.
Regardless of how the errors occur, the Congress wants to know how SSA can limit them and save taxpayer money for those who need it most.
IG O’Carroll testified that SSA needs to regularly review SSI recipient eligibility. The Agency should also use private and public databases to verify information about people’s assets and living arrangements. The Deputy Commissioner of Social Security also testified, addressing the SSI program’s complexity and the Agency’s current efforts to make accurate payments.
After this hearing, the dialogue continues with our office, as congressional staff might ask us specific follow-up questions “for the record.” They might even request in-person briefings with our auditors or investigators on topics of particular interest.
We interact with Congress in other ways as well. For example, the Members’ offices on Capitol Hill and in their home states regularly contact us for information on behalf of their constituents.
Our goal is to respond to these inquiries within 21 calendar days. Last year, we met this goal for 96 percent of the inquiries we received. This shows our commitment to be responsive to your political representatives as they work to assist you.
Finally, we interact with Members of Congress through events such as town hall meetings, and even OIG site visits. Last summer, Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security, toured the Dallas CDI Unit to meet OIG staff and learn more about the CDI program.
The Congress depends on Federal inspectors general to help inform its legislative decisions and keep agencies accountable for how they spend your money. We’re doing our part to make them aware of and informed on SSA and OIG issues.