SSA’s programs are vast and complex, so in the OIG, we have a lot of areas to review—but how do we come up with specific audits? We can audit just about anything at SSA, so generally speaking, we look for the “So what?” factor to make those decisions.
We try to do work that matters to real people: the folks who depend on Social Security every day. For example, in 2014 we reported that 26,000 people age 70 and older should receive a higher benefit payment—$195 million more altogether.
Audit Report “Starters”
There’s a lot that goes into identifying and developing audits that will have impact. Here are six factors that contribute to audit development.
- Big-Dollar Risks—Think “bang for the buck.” We want to identify areas for improvement that will save significant taxpayer dollars and/or help protect the trust funds. In one case, we used U.S. Customs records to identify $152 million paid to 35,000 SSI recipients who were not due payments because they were outside the United States.
- Congressional Requests—Lawmakers regularly asks us for an audit or to answer specific questions about an area of concern. For example, Congress asked us about the level of service SSA provided people filing retirement claims online, and we found the level of satisfaction extremely high.
- Agency Requests—Sometimes, the Commissioner of Social Security asks us to check into something; that’s right, sometimes SSA wants to be audited. For example, in 2011, the Commissioner asked us to review a new computer system used to decide some disability claims, and we found that it promoted consistency in applying policy and resulted in better documentation of cases.
- Law, Policy, or Procedure Changes—We’ll follow up to see if the law or policy was implemented effectively and efficiently. For example, The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 provided $500 million to SSA for processing retirement and disability claims, and it required the OIG to review the use of the funds. Accordingly, we completed a number of reviews, including a report on the funds provided for electronic health record technology.
- Oversight Requirements—The law requires us to complete certain audits. For example, every year we must identify and report SSA’s greatest management challenges.
- Unexpected Issues—Sometimes, something comes out of the blue and raises a lot of public concern, so we will do an audit to assess the situation and suggest actions. Last year, for instance, the Associated Press published an investigation about suspected Nazis receiving Social Security benefits. The next day, Congress asked us to investigate, and in May 2015, we issued a report.
To manage these factors, we have many internal discussions and regular meetings to keep everything on track and to develop audit ideas throughout the year.
- Our audit management team meets twice a year to share ideas and discuss what seems worthwhile to look into.
- We meet with Congressional committee staffs to find out what’s of particular concern to them and to keep them in the loop on what we are planning.
- We meet with SSA officials and tell them what we plan to do. You might ask, “Doesn’t a heads-up compromise the audit?” Not likely, because we usually look at situations that have already happened—analyzing history to learn from it. We rarely pull a surprise—we even put our audit plan online. That said, some audits of SSA’s programs or operations require that we test systems without SSA knowing, so we get a real-life, real-time picture of the situation. In all we do, it is critical for us to maintain our independence, and we work hard to do that.
Now that you know a bit about why we audit what we do, you can read the final products here.