THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
FOLDER SERVICING OPERATION
We improve SSA programs and operations and protect them against fraud, waste, and abuse by conducting independent and objective audits, evaluations, and investigations. We provide timely, useful, and reliable information and advice to Administration officials, the Congress, and the public.
The Inspector General Act created independent audit and investigative units, called the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The mission of the OIG, as spelled out in the Act, is to:
Conduct and supervise
independent and objective audits and investigations relating to agency programs
Promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency within the agency.
Prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in agency programs and operations.
Review and make recommendations regarding existing and proposed legislation and regulations relating to agency programs and operations.
Keep the agency head and the Congress fully and currently informed of problems in agency programs and operations.
To ensure objectivity, the IG Act empowers the IG with:
Independence to determine
what reviews to perform.
Access to all information necessary for the reviews.
Authority to publish findings and recommendations based on the reviews.
By conducting independent and objective audits, investigations, and evaluations, we are agents of positive change striving for continuous improvement in the Social Security Administration's programs, operations, and management and in our own office.
Date: September 23, 2003
To: The Commissioner
From: Inspector General
Subject: Audit of the Wilkes-Barre Folder Servicing Operation (A-04-03-13040)
Our objective was to determine the accuracy and condition of the physical and computerized folder inventory at the Wilkes-Barre Folder Servicing Operation (WBFSO).
The Social Security Administration (SSA) stores all Title XVI folders at WBFSO, about 4.6 million folders. SSA hired a contractor to file, retrieve, and maintain case folders at WBFSO and update the electronic inventory systems. From September 2000 through February 2003, SSA paid the WBFSO contractor over $5.5 million for these services. Additionally, SSA paid the contractor over $1.3 million to perform the Master File Validation (MFV) project from March 2001 to April 2002.
SSA and Disability Determination
Services’ staff routinely request Title
XVI case folders from WBFSO to facilitate claims decisions. WBFSO personnel
document the movement of folders in and out of the facility by recording the
action in the Folder Control System (FCS). The FCS interfaces with SSA’s
Supplemental Security Income Control System (SSICS), and actions recorded in
FCS are uploaded to SSICS each night. SSICS tracks Title XVI folder movement
nationally and is the mechanism for SSA components to request folders.
SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY
Our audit assessed the accuracy, reliability and physical condition of the case folder inventories maintained at WBFSO. In conducting our audit we:
• Interviewed SSA and WBFSO contractor personnel to obtain an understanding of WBFSO operations.
• Evaluated the existing controls, policies, and procedures related to folder processing at WBFSO.
• Performed tests of the electronic and physical inventories. See Appendix A for a detailed description of our inventory tests.
• Evaluated the overall physical condition of 300 case folders to determine whether folders were torn or mutilated, properly labeled, filed in sequence, or had loose contents.
• Estimated the results of our electronic and physical inventory tests to the population of Title XVI case folders. See Appendix A for a detailed description of our sampling methodology.
Generally, we determined the computer-generated data used for our audit were sufficiently reliable to meet our audit objectives. This assessment was based on tests we performed on the completeness, accuracy, and validity of the FCS and SSICS inventory systems. The issues we identified with the completeness and accuracy of the data discussed in the results of review section of this report. The entity audited was the Center for Material Resources and Support within the Office of Central Operations. We performed our audit in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and Atlanta, Georgia, from November 2002 to February 2003. We conducted our audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
RESULTS OF REVIEW
Our audit identified folders that were missing from WBFSO, and folders that either were not recorded or improperly recorded in the SSICS electronic inventory systems. Based on the errors identified, we estimate that, of the 4.6 million folders at WBFSO, approximately
• 77,000 folders recorded in SSICS as stored at WBFSO would not be found at the facility and
• 108,000 folders
were not properly recorded in SSICS as stored at WBFSO, when in fact the
located at WBFSO.
In addition to the inventory accountability errors, we estimate that approximately 92,000 folders were stored at WBFSO that should have been destroyed. The additional storage cost for these folders is estimated at about $13,400, annually. We also estimate that over 1.6 million folders had loose (unsecured) contents. Unsecured documents within a folder are susceptible to being misfiled or lost.
Finally, we found that individual post-entitlement (PE) documents, received daily from SSA components, were not initially filed with the recipient’s case folder already stored at WBFSO. In fact, PE documents were sorted, inventoried, packaged, and then shipped to the Federal Records Center (FRC) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for storage. We believe this process is inefficient because it results in unnecessary storage and shipping costs and delays the delivery of case folders to the requester.
FOLDERS COULD NOT BE LOCATED WITHIN WBFSO
Our test of the electronic inventory identified 5 of 300 folders we selected from the SSICS inventory could not be located at WBFSO. For the five folders, SSICS reported the following information.
• Four folders were sent to WBFSO from SSA components. SSICS reported that three folders were sent to WBFSO on or before August 17, 2000, and the fourth was sent on November 18, 2002. Based on these sent dates, WBFSO should have received the folders before our audit period.
• WBFSO received one folder in January 1976. Although SSICS reported that WBFSO had received this folder, the folder could not be located.
We could not determine whether WBFSO received the folders because SSA did not track folders through the shipping process. Since most folders are shipped via the U.S. Postal Service, without shipment tracking records, we could not determine the folders’ final location. We estimate that approximately 77,000 of the 4.6 million folders would not be found at WBFSO. When folders cannot be located, claims decisions may be delayed, and SSA could have to expend scarce resources to locate or reconstruct folders.
We believe SSA should consider the use of a shipping service that tracks folders from the point of origin to the destination, such as Federal Express, United Parcel Service, or the U.S. Postal Services’ Express Mail. A shipping services tracking system would allow the Agency to monitor the location of case folders and make the WBFSO contractor more accountable for folders that are not properly updated in the inventory systems upon receipt at WBFSO. Also, opening the folder shipment workload to the commercial marketplace for competition is in accordance with the President’s Management Agenda, which encourages the use of competitive sourcing.
FOLDERS WERE NOT PROPERLY RECORDED IN THE ELECTRONIC INVENTORY SYSTEM
To test the physical inventory, we selected 300 folders physically located
at WBFSO and determined whether the case folder was properly recorded in both
the FCS and SSICS inventory. We identified folders that were stored at WBFSO,
but SSICS did not report the folders as part of the WBFSO folder inventory.
We also found folders at WBFSO that were recorded in SSICS as destroyed but,
these folders were still stored at the facility.
• Seven folders were found at WBFSO, but were recorded in SSICS as stored at a location other than WBFSO, lost, or inactive. Projecting this error, we estimate that approximately 108,000 folders were located at WBFSO but were not recorded in SSICS as being stored at WBFSO.
Three folders were recorded in SSICS as located somewhere other than WBFSO. As a result, requests from an SSA component would be directed to the records storage facility or field office identified in SSICS as housing the record, instead of WBFSO. Therefore, the initial request would be unsuccessful, and other actions would have to be initiated to locate the folder. This would delay the folder retrieval process or possibly result in a folder not being located.
Three folders were recorded in SSICS as lost. These folders would not be delivered to an SSA user unless the user knew that Title XVI folders were stored at WBFSO and a request to the facility might result in a folder being located and delivered.
One folder was recorded in SSICS as inactive. Folders stored at WBFSO that have had little movement, but do not qualify for destruction, are coded inactive and should be transferred to an FRC for storage. Similar to folders stored at another location, a request for this folder would be misdirected and delay the folders delivery.
• Six folders were recorded in SSICS as destroyed. Although SSICS indicated that the folders should have been destroyed between 1993 and 2002, the folders were still being stored at WBFSO. The WBFSO contractor did not identify and destroy folders that were scheduled for destruction. We estimate that approximately 92,000 folders were stored at WBFSO that should have been destroyed. SSA estimated the storage cost for the 92,000 folders was about $13,400, annually.
FOLDERS HAD LOOSE CONTENTS
Our tests of the 300 folders selected from the physical inventory identified 106 folders with loose contents. When the contents of folders are not properly secured, documents could be separated from the folder and misfiled or lost. According to SSA personnel, the WBFSO folders have loose contents because
• SSA components send folders to WBFSO without properly securing documents in the folder and
• SSA personnel loosely filed PE material in the case folders before the contractor’s current responsibility related to PE documents.
SSA personnel stated that the contractor was not required to secure loose documents inside a folder. In fact, SSA explained that this practice would be time-consuming, would increase the cost of the contract, and could result in material being misfiled within the folder. At the time of our audit, SSA required that the contractor secure folders with loose contents by rubber banding the outside of the folder before shipment.
SSA personnel stated that the SSA components shipping records to the WBFSO are responsible for securing documents inside the folder. However, SSA could not provide us with a policy that clearly defined who was responsible for securing documents in a folder prior to shipping. In fact, we found that SSA’s policies and procedures do not adequately address the responsibilities and procedures for securing a folder’s contents prior to shipping. We believe SSA needs to establish procedures to safeguard the contents of case folders prior to folder shipment.
Projecting this error to the universe of 4.6 million folders stored at the WBFSO, we estimate over 1.6 million folders have loose contents.
POST-ENTITLEMENT DOCUMENTS WERE NOT INITIALLY FILED WITH THE FOLDER
PE documents received daily from SSA were not filed with the recipient’s case folder already stored at WBFSO. In fact, upon receipt at WBFSO, PE documents were sorted, inventoried, packaged, and shipped to the FRC for storage. Over time, multiple PE documents for individuals are sent to the FRC and stored in separate folders. When an SSA component requests a folder, WBFSO requests PE documents from the FRC. Upon receipt from FRC, WBFSO files PE documents with the folder, which is then sent to the requestor. The process of retrieving and matching PE documents with a case folder takes approximately 30 to 45 days.
The process of storing PE documents at the FRC began in 1995. At that time, other tenants occupied the same building as WBFSO, and additional space was not available to store PE documents. However, at the time of our audit, these tenants were no longer located in the building, and SSA officials stated that space was available to store PE documents.
We believe PE storage procedures were inefficient, costly, and delayed the delivery of case folders to the requestor. At the time of our audit, SSA’s PE documents occupied 127,862 cubic feet of space at the Philadelphia FRC at a cost of $2.10 per cubic foot per year. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2002, the WBFSO requested 705,088 PE folders from the FRC and was charged $1.05 per PE folder retrieval. Accordingly, SSA spent over $1 million to retrieve, store, and ship PE documents in FY 2002 (see Table 1).
Table 1: Summary of PE Costs
FRC Retrieval Fees $740,342
FRC Storage Fees 268,510
Shipping to/from FRC 44,250
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
As a result of the inventory problems, Title XVI disability folders may not be readily available to SSA components to facilitate claims actions. The untimely retrieval of a case folder delays claim actions, and lost folders require that SSA expend scarce resources to locate or reconstruct folders. In the end, SSA’s customers are inconvenienced or left skeptical about the Agency’s ability to safeguard important documents. The records maintained at WBFSO are essential for SSA to make sound decisions regarding beneficiary entitlements and to deliver world-class service.
Therefore, we recommend that SSA:
1. Determine the location of the five missing folders. If the folders cannot be located, determine the necessary corrective action that should be taken on these folders.
2. Perform a cost-benefit analysis on using a shipping service that tracks folders from the point of origin to the destination.
3. Adjust SSICS to indicate that the seven folders recorded as stored at a location other than WBFSO, lost, or inactive are at WBFSO.
4. Destroy the six folders identified with expired destruction dates and remind the WBFSO contractor to follow the folder destruction schedule.
5. Establish procedures to safeguard the contents of case folders during the shipping process.
6. Determine whether filing PE documents at WBFSO would be cost beneficial and more efficient than the current practice of storing PE documents at the FRC.
In response to our draft report, SSA agreed with Recommendations 1, 3, 4 and 6. With regards to Recommendation 2, SSA stated that the USPS has been a reliable shipper and the annual tracking of over two million folders would be a monumental task that would outweigh the benefit derived. In response to Recommendation 5, SSA stated that it currently takes appropriate measures to secure case folders by placing them in heavy-duty envelopes and sealed boxes during the shipping process. The full text of SSA’s comments is included in Appendix B.
OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL RESPONSE
We recommended that SSA consider the use of a shipping service that tracks folders because the current arrangements WBFSO has with the USPS does not include tracking. Without this tracking capability, which is usually provided by commercial shippers, SSA may not be able to locate folders lost during shipment. SSA’s National Records Center in Kansas City, Missouri currently uses Federal Express for shipment services and informed us that the tracking service has been beneficial to its operations when a user claims that a folder was not received. We continue to believe that SSA should evaluate the use of a shipping service that tracks WBFSO shipments.
SSA places the contents of case folders at risk of loss when the contents are loosely filed. Once a folder leaves WBFSO’s possession, there is no guarantee that the user will take the measures necessary to safeguard the folder’s loose contents. We encourage SSA to establish procedures to safeguard the contents of folders throughout the entire shipping process.
James G. Huse, Jr.
APPENDIX A – Sampling Methodology and Results
APPENDIX B – Agency Comments
APPENDIX C – OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
Sampling Methodology and Results Methodology
Test of Electronic Inventory
To test the electronic inventory, we traced a statistical sample of 300 folders recorded in SSICS as located in the WBFSO on December 5, 2002, to their physical location within the facility.
All Folders in SSICS coded L00 4,622,979 300 12/5/02 SSN
Test of Physical Inventory
To test the physical inventory, we traced a statistical sample of 300 case folders physically located at the facility on December 3, 2002, to SSICS and FCS. Folders are filed at WBFSO based on their terminal digits (the last four digits of a Social Security number). To select the folders, we randomly selected 300 terminal digit numbers between 0001 and 9999. For each randomly selected number, we chose the first folder stored in this terminal digit range.
All Folders in SSICS coded L00 4,616,813 300 12/3/02 SSN Terminal Digits
Since we did not manually count the inventory of folders on December 3, 2002,
we relied on the total number of folders identified in the computerized inventory
on this date as our universe.
Sampling Methodology and Results (continued)
Results from Test of the Electronic Inventory Sample Error Projected Error Projection Lower Limit Projection Upper Limit
Not Found at WBFSO 5 77,050 30,464 160,518
Results from Tests of the
Physical Inventory Sample Error Projected Error Projection Lower Limit Projection Upper Limit
Recorded in SSICS as stored at a location other than WBFSO, lost, or inactive 7 107,726 50,791 200,269
Recorded as destroyed in SSICS but still in WBFSO inventory 6 92,336 40,375 180,474
Folders with loose contents 106 1,631,274 1,419,702 1,852,897
All projections were made at the 90-percent confidence level.
Date: September 4, 2003
To: James G. Huse, Jr.
From: Larry W. Dye
Chief of Staff
Subject: Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Draft Report, “Audit of the Wilkes-Barre Folder Servicing Operation” (A-04-03-13040)—INFORMATION
We appreciate the OIG's efforts in conducting this review. Our comments on the report content and recommendations are attached.
Please let us know if we can be of further assistance. Staff questions can
be referred to
Trudy Williams at extension 50380.
COMMENTS OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (SSA) ON THE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (OIG) DRAFT REPORT, “AUDIT OF THE WILKES-BARRE FOLDER SERVICING OPERATION” (A-04-03-13040)
Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the subject draft report. Our response to the specific recommendations is provided below.
The objective of the audit was to determine the accuracy and condition of the physical and computerized inventory at the Wilkes-Barre Folder Servicing Operation (WBFSO).
The audit identified 1.7
percent of the folders recorded in Supplemental Security Income Control System
(SSICS) as stored at the WBFSO that could not be located at the facility.
Also, 2.3 percent of the folders were not properly recorded in SSICS as stored at the WBFSO although they were located at the facility and 2 percent of the folders stored at the WBFSO should have been destroyed.
SSA should determine the location of the five missing folders. If the folders cannot be located, determine the necessary corrective action that should be taken on these folders.
We agree. Three of the five
missing folders are eligible for destruction and will be destroyed if they are
located. If the remaining two folders are located, we will receipt them into
the SSICS to establish the proper location. If the two folders cannot be located,
we will reconstruct them, if necessary. We anticipate completing this action
by October 15, 2003.
SSA should perform a cost-benefit analysis on using a shipping service that
tracks folders from the point of origin to the destination.
We disagree. For years,
SSA has used the USPS to send benefit checks, important notices, and many other
official documents. The USPS has proven to be a reliable shipper. Annually tracking
the movement of over two million folders to and from the WBFSO would be a monumental
task far outweighing any benefit derived.
OIG appears to make the assumption that discrepancies between SSICS records of folder location in the FSO and the actual physical location not in the FSO arise from losses during shipping. It is useful perhaps to distinguish between the tracking of folders individually (SSICS) and the proposed tracking of shipments (boxes of folders). Folders slated for shipment can be (and sometimes are) removed before shipment and this action is then not accurately recorded in SSICS. Tracking the box shipment would not remedy this situation.
SSA should adjust SSICS
to indicate that the seven folders recorded as stored at a location other than
WBFSO, lost, or inactive are at WBFSO.
We agree. SSICS has been updated to indicate the proper location of the folders.
SSA should destroy the six
folders identified with expired destruction dates and remind the WBFSO contractor
to follow the folder destruction schedule.
We agree. The six folders
eligible for destruction were destroyed. We have reminded the WBFSO contractor
to follow the folder destruction schedule.
SSA should establish procedures to safeguard the contents of case folders during the shipping process.
We disagree. We believe
the Agency already takes appropriate measure to secure case folders. Folders
are placed in heavy-duty envelopes or boxes that are securely sealed and therefore,
materials are not separated from folders during the shipping process.
SSA should determine whether filing PE documents at WBFSO would be cost beneficial and more efficient than the current practice of storing PE documents at the Federal Record Center (FRC).
We agree. In August 2003,
SSA’s Office of Central Operations began forming a workgroup to develop
storage options for the WBFSO. The workgroup will determine whether filing PE
documents at the WBFSO would be a viable option rather than the current practice
of storing PE documents at the FRC. The workgroup anticipates having the analysis
of this recommendation available by January 1, 2004.
OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
Mark Bailey, Director, Kansas City/Atlanta Audit Division (816) 936-5591
Frank Nagy, Deputy Director, Atlanta Office (404) 562-5552
In addition to those named above:
Catherine Burnside, Senior Auditor
Frank Trzaska, Senior Auditor
David McGhee, Auditor
Valerie Ledbetter, Auditor
Kimberly Beauchamp, Writer/Editor
For additional copies of
this report, please visit our web site at www.ssa.gov/oig or contact the
Office of the Inspector General’s Public Affairs Specialist
at (410) 966-1375. Refer to Common Identification Number A-04-03-13040
Overview of the Office of the Inspector General
Office of Audit
The Office of Audit (OA) conducts comprehensive financial and performance audits of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) programs and makes recommendations to ensure that program objectives are achieved effectively and efficiently. Financial audits, required by the Chief Financial Officers' Act of 1990, assess whether SSA’s financial statements fairly present the Agency’s financial position, results of operations and cash flow. Performance audits review the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of SSA’s programs. OA also conducts short-term management and program evaluations focused on issues of concern to SSA, Congress and the general public. Evaluations often focus on identifying and recommending ways to prevent and minimize program fraud and inefficiency, rather than detecting problems after they occur.
Office of Executive Operations
The Office of Executive Operations (OEO) supports the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) by providing information resource management; systems security; and the coordination of budget, procurement, telecommunications, facilities and equipment, and human resources. In addition, this office is the focal point for the OIG’s strategic planning function and the development and implementation of performance measures required by the Government Performance and Results Act. OEO is also responsible for performing internal reviews to ensure that OIG offices nationwide hold themselves to the same rigorous standards that we expect from SSA, as well as conducting investigations of OIG employees, when necessary. Finally, OEO administers OIG’s public affairs, media, and interagency activities, coordinates responses to Congressional requests for information, and also communicates OIG’s planned and current activities and their results to the Commissioner and Congress.
Office of Investigations
The Office of Investigations (OI) conducts and coordinates investigative activity related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement of SSA programs and operations. This includes wrongdoing by applicants, beneficiaries, contractors, physicians, interpreters, representative payees, third parties, and by SSA employees in the performance of their duties. OI also conducts joint investigations with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
Counsel to the Inspector General
The Counsel to the Inspector General provides legal advice and counsel to the Inspector General on various matters, including: 1) statutes, regulations, legislation, and policy directives governing the administration of SSA’s programs; 2) investigative procedures and techniques; and 3) legal implications and conclusions to be drawn from audit and investigative material produced by the OIG. The Counsel’s office also administers the civil monetary penalty program.