It’s a new year, so it’s a good time to review what we see as the major challenges facing SSA and discuss how the OIG will oversee and assist SSA’s efforts to address these challenges. Here are three leading oversight areas for the OIG in 2017:
SSA strives to make “the right payment to the right person at the right time.” The OIG has become a leader in the oversight community through various audit, investigative, and legal efforts to help SSA identify and prevent improper payments and fraud.
Our auditors have planned several potential high-impact reports to flag SSA improper payments; for example, this year they plan to analyze data to identify Supplemental Security Income recipients who are living outside the United States without SSA’s knowledge, incarcerated individuals who are improperly receiving Social Security benefits, and individuals who are collecting benefits under multiple Social Security numbers. Additionally, with the recent enactment of the Inspector General Empowerment Act, which includes an OIG exemption to the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act, our auditors can now quickly match data with other government agencies to identify fraud and waste.
On the investigative side, we continue to enhance the highly successful Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) program, which resolves questions of fraud and abuse in Social Security disability claims. Last year, CDI efforts contributed to $268 million in projected savings to SSA’s programs. While CDI currently covers 33 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 requires SSA to have CDI coverage for all 50 states by 2022. To support that effort, our Office of Investigations recently established the CDI Division at OIG headquarters in Baltimore. The new division will oversee CDI unit expansion and ensure units operate consistently and effectively across the country.
Our attorneys will continue to uphold the provisions of the Social Security Act, through the Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) program. Our attorneys may impose CMPs against individuals who make false statements or representations to obtain Social Security benefits (in violation of Section 1129); or against individuals who mislead consumers by giving the false impression that they are associated or endorsed by SSA when then advertise, solicit services, or communicate with the public (in violation of Section 1140).
IT Modernization and Security
SSA must address its information technology capabilities on two fronts: by modernizing information systems and ensuring systems security. Congress is interested in SSA’s progress in both areas, calling on SSA and OIG executives last year to testify at separate hearings on SSA’s IT modernization and security efforts.
This year, our auditors will oversee SSA IT modernization through a series of reports on the agency’s development of the Disability Case Processing System, or DCPS. SSA envisioned DCPS as a single tool for disability case processing across the country, but the project has delivered limited functionality and faced schedule delays since it launched in 2010. Our auditors plan to issue a series of reports in 2017 on SSA’s progress in developing DCPS.
SSA also needs to ensure network and systems security. Data breaches at government agencies in recent years have highlighted the need for Federal agencies to make every effort to protect information systems. The Federal Information Security Modernization Act requires inspectors general to evaluate its agency’s information security programs and practices on an annual basis. Our auditors will conduct that required review; in another report, they plan to review whether SSA’s security controls can detect and stop cyber-attacks in a timely manner.
SSA has a long tradition of providing quality customer service through more than 1,300 field offices across the country and a national telephone service. The agency in recent years has expanded its online service capabilities through its my Social Security online portal.
This year, our auditors will continue oversight of SSA’s efforts to meet changing customer service needs, given an aging population, technological advances, and customer expectations. They plan to follow-up on a recent report on customer wait times at SSA field offices that found, from 2010 to 2015, SSA experienced an increase in average wait times and the percentage of visitors who waited longer than an hour. The review will assess the factors that affect wait times and the initiatives SSA has taken to reduce wait times.
Finally, our auditors and investigators will continue to focus on SSA’s representative payee program; representative payee misuse and fraud is one of our highest priorities, due to the vulnerability of this beneficiary population. Our auditors have seven representative payee-related reviews in process, and our investigators will prioritize cases of misuse of Social Security funds by designated representative payees.