THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
ASSIGNMENT OF SOCIAL SECURITY
NUMBERS TO INDIVIDUALS IN THE
COMMONWEALTH OF THE
NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS
AND AMERICAN SAMOA
By conducting independent and objective audits, evaluations and investigations, we inspire public confidence in the integrity and security of SSA’s programs and operations and protect them against fraud, waste and abuse. We provide timely, useful and reliable information and advice to Administration officials, 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 and operations.
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.
We strive for continual improvement in SSA’s programs, operations and management by proactively seeking new ways to prevent and deter fraud, waste and abuse. We commit to integrity and excellence by supporting an environment that provides a valuable public service while encouraging employee development and retention and fostering diversity and innovation.
Date: February 25, 2009 Refer To:
To: The Commissioner
From: Inspector General
Subject: Assignment of Social Security Numbers to Individuals in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa (A 08 08 18098)
Our objective was to assess the Social Security Administration's (SSA) process for assigning Social Security numbers (SSN) to individuals in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and American Samoa.
The Northern Mariana Islands are a Commonwealth of the United States located in the North Pacific Ocean, and American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean. Each of these insular areas has its own government and immigration system. Individuals born in the CNMI are U.S. citizens and those in American Samoa are U.S. nationals (considered the same as U.S. citizens for SSA purposes). However, thousands of noncitizens travel to these insular areas each year to work. Appendix B provides a description of the CNMI and American Samoa and a map showing their locations.
Individuals in these insular areas can apply for an SSN at SSA’s field offices in Saipan, CNMI, and Pago Pago, American Samoa. When applying for an original SSN, applicants must provide acceptable documentary evidence of (1) age, (2) identity, and (3) U.S. citizenship or work-authorized lawful noncitizen status and/or a valid nonwork reason. In 2007, SSA field offices in the CNMI and American Samoa assigned over 5,200 original SSNs to U.S. citizens and noncitizens. Appendix B (Figures 1 and 2) shows the number of SSNs these field offices assigned by citizenship and country of birth and the age of noncitizens.
To accomplish our objective, we identified a population of 5,229 individuals to whom SSA assigned original SSNs based on applications processed at the Saipan and Pago Pago field offices in 2007. From this population, we randomly selected a sample of 200 SSNs to determine whether SSA personnel followed applicable policies and procedures when processing SSN applications. To learn more about the challenges SSA faces in assigning SSNs to individuals in the CNMI and American Samoa, we interviewed representatives from SSA’s Office of Income Security Programs and the managers of the Saipan and Pago Pago field offices. We also interviewed Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about immigration and security issues. Because of DHS’ responsibilities for immigration enforcement and the Department of the Interior’s responsibilities for administrative oversight of insular areas, we will provide copies of this report to the Inspectors General of those agencies. Appendix C includes a detailed description of our scope and methodology.
RESULTS OF REVIEW
We are concerned that SSA’s policies and practices may place it at-risk for improper SSN assignment to individuals in the CNMI and American Samoa. Specifically, because SSA relies on the CNMI and American Samoa immigration systems (not DHS immigration verification and screening), we are concerned about the potential that SSA may assign SSNs to individuals who may not be who they purport to be. However, during our audit, the United States enacted legislation applying U.S. immigration law to the CNMI. While we are encouraged by this legislation, until DHS implements final regulations, key details regarding noncitizen workers remain unknown. We are unaware of any proposed legislation to apply U.S. immigration law to American Samoa. In addition, SSA processed noncitizen SSN applications at its Saipan and Pago Pago field offices without written operating policies and procedures. Finally, field office personnel in Pago Pago, American Samoa, did not always document their independent verification of birth records for individuals claiming U.S. citizenship.
SSA RELIES ON CNMI AND AMERICAN SAMOA IMMIGRATION AGENCIES WHEN PROCESSING NONCITIZEN SSN APPLICATIONS
Because SSA relies on the CNMI and American Samoa immigration systems to help establish lawful noncitizen status—a key requirement for SSN assignment—we are concerned about the potential for improper SSN assignment. Unlike DHS, the CNMI and American Samoa do not conduct the same level of screening and background checks to identify individuals who have criminal records or may be a danger to U.S. security.
We are concerned about SSN assignment in the CNMI because the Department of the Interior and the Government Accountability Office have expressed concerns about the administration of its immigration system, including the lack of an effective pre-screening process for noncitizens who wish to enter the CNMI to work. For example, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs testified before Congress in 2007 that “. . . in a post 9/11 environment, and given the CNMI’s location and the number of aliens that travel there, we believe that continued local control of the CNMI’s immigration system presents significant national security and homeland security concerns.” As such, inadequate verification and screening could increase the potential for SSA to assign SSNs to noncitizens who are not authorized to work or who they purport to be.
In May 2008, the United States enacted legislation applying U.S. immigration law to the CNMI—1 year after enactment subject to a transition period that begins on June 1, 2009 and ends on December 31, 2014. The legislation’s stated intent is to ensure effective border control procedures and protect national and homeland security. While we are encouraged by this legislation, until DHS implements final regulations, key details regarding noncitizen workers remain unknown.
The Department of the Interior and DHS officials we interviewed were not aware of proposed legislation to apply U.S. immigration law to American Samoa. As such, SSA will continue to depend on American Samoa’s immigration system to help it establish lawful noncitizen status. The Department of the Interior and DHS officials told us they believe the potential security risks in American Samoa are not as great as in the CNMI, mainly because American Samoa is more geographically isolated, and most foreign workers come from nearby Samoa. While we believe SSA is potentially vulnerable to
improper SSN assignment in American Samoa because of the absence of U.S. immigration law, we acknowledge the security risk may not be as great as in the CNMI.
SSA PROCESSED NONCITIZEN SSN APPLICATIONS WITHOUT WRITTEN OPERATING POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
Internal control standards require that controls be clearly documented and such documentation appear in management directives, administrative policies, or operating manuals. However, SSA processed noncitizen SSN applications at its Saipan and Pago Pago field offices without written operating policies and procedures. That is, neither POMS nor SSA regional instructions specifically addressed the unique immigration situation (non-DHS screening) in the CNMI and American Samoa. Although POMS provides a list of acceptable immigration documents that establish lawful noncitizen status for SSN applications, it does not specify the documents noncitizens in the CNMI and American Samoa should provide to SSA.
Furthermore, we are concerned that no provision existed for SSA to assign SSNs to noncitizens based on immigration and work documents issued by the CNMI and American Samoa. Because neither POMS nor regional instructions stipulate what field office personnel should consider as acceptable evidence of noncitizen status in the CNMI and American Samoa, we do not believe that recognition of such immigration and work permits satisfies SSA’s requirements for assigning SSNs.
When processing noncitizen SSN applications, both offices relied on historical procedures. For example, Pago Pago field office personnel required that noncitizens provide, as proof of work-authorized lawful noncitizen status, an immigration identification and work-authorization letter issued by the American Samoa Immigration Office. Although field office personnel did not verify these documents with American Samoa immigration officials, they compared signatures on immigration documents provided by noncitizens with a signature list of authorized immigration officials to ensure they matched. While field office personnel in Saipan required that noncitizens provide a CNMI entry permit (issued jointly by the Departments of Labor and Immigration), like the Pago Pago field office, they did not verify immigration documents with the issuing agency. However, in contrast to American Samoa, Saipan field office personnel did not maintain an authorized signature list of immigration officials. As such, fraudulent documents may have gone undetected. In fact, the Saipan field office manager acknowledged this potential vulnerability.
We believe it is important for the Saipan field office to have some means of verifying the authenticity of immigration documents, such as comparing signatures on immigration documents provided by noncitizens with a signature list of authorized immigration officials to ensure they match. Although we acknowledge this interim step is not a substitute for DHS screening, until U.S. immigration takes control, we believe it will help reduce the potential for improper SSN assignment.
SSA has established specific policies and procedures for assigning SSNs to noncitizens in similar unique situations. For example, citizens of Compact of Free Association countries (currently the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau) may enter, reside, and work in the United States without regard to certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Because of this unique situation, SSA established specific guidelines for field office personnel. We believe similar policies and procedures (tailored to the specific immigration circumstances in the CNMI and American Samoa) would help ensure proper SSN assignment. Headquarters personnel we contacted generally agreed that written operating procedures, such as those found in SSA’s POMS, would be beneficial.
FIELD OFFICE PERSONNEL DID NOT ALWAYS DOCUMENT VERIFICATION OF BIRTH RECORDS
SSA policies and procedures require that field office personnel document evidence of (1) age, (2) identity, and (3) U.S. citizenship or work-authorized lawful noncitizen status and/or a valid nonwork reason when processing original SSN applications. Of the 200 SSN applications we reviewed, field office personnel generally complied with these requirements. However, we found that field office personnel in Pago Pago, American Samoa did not document independent verification of birth records for individuals claiming U.S. citizenship in 22 instances. Although we verified the birth records for these individuals, SSA could be vulnerable to individuals providing false documents to obtain an SSN and possibly enter the continental United States. Established policies and procedures can only be effective if personnel processing SSN applications comply with them. As such, we believe SSA should reemphasize the importance of following all policies and procedures when processing SSN applications.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We are encouraged that DHS is scheduled to take control of the CNMI immigration as early as June 2009. However, in the interim, we believe SSA should take steps in its Saipan field office to help ensure the validity of immigration and work documents provided by noncitizens. Furthermore, we believe written operating polices and procedures in both insular areas would help ensure proper SSN assignment.
Accordingly, we recommend that SSA:
1. Establish written policies and procedures, including a list of acceptable immigration and work-authorization documents, for assigning SSNs to noncitizens in the CNMI and American Samoa. When DHS assumes responsibility for CNMI immigration, SSA should reassess and revise its policies and procedures, as needed.
2. Until DHS assumes responsibility for the CNMI immigration, instruct the Saipan field office personnel to compare signatures on immigration documents provided by noncitizens with a signature list of authorized immigration officials to ensure they match.
3. Reemphasize to Pago Pago field office personnel the importance of following all enumeration policies and procedures.
SSA agreed with our recommendations. The Agency also provided a technical comment that we incorporated. The Agency’s comments are included in Appendix D.
Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr.
APPENDIX A – Acronyms
APPENDIX B – Background
APPENDIX C – Scope and Methodology
APPENDIX D – Agency Comments
APPENDIX E – OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
CNMI Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
DHS Department of Homeland Security
OIG Office of the Inspector General
POMS Program Operations Manual System
SSA Social Security Administration
SSN Social Security Number
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a group of 14 islands located just north of Guam. The principal inhabited islands are Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. In 1976, after almost 30 years as a trust territory, the District of the Mariana Islands entered into a Covenant with the United States establishing the island territory’s status as a self-governing Commonwealth in political union with the United States. The Covenant grants the CNMI the right of self-governance over internal affairs and the United States the responsibility and authority for matters relating to foreign affairs and defense affecting the CNMI.
American Samoa consists of five islands located about 2,300 miles southwest of Hawaii. The largest and most populated island is Tutuila, on which is located the territory's capital, Pago Pago. It is an unincorporated territory because not all provisions of the U.S. Constitution apply. The U.S. Congress has given plenary authority over the territory to the Secretary of the Interior, who in turn allowed American Samoans to draft their own constitution under which their government functions.
As shown in Figure 1, most noncitizens entering the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and assigned Social Security numbers (SSN) through the Saipan field office were from China and the Philippines. About 95 percent of the noncitizens were between the ages of 16 and 50, as shown in Figure 1a. Based on an analysis of Detailed Earnings Queries for the noncitizen SSNs in our sample, we found that about 6 (62 percent) of every 10 noncitizens assigned an SSN in the CNMI in 2007 had no wages posted to their Social Security Administration (SSA) earnings record. Without extensive investigation of each case, we could not determine the reason for this situation.
Age Range Number of Noncitizens % of Total
0 to 15 39 2
16 to 30 938 63
31 to 50 484 32
51 and above 39 3
Total 1,500 100
As shown in Figure 2, most noncitizens entering American Samoa and assigned SSNs through the Pago Pago field office were from Samoa. About 96 percent of the noncitizens were between the ages of 16 and 50, as shown in Figure 2a. Based on an analysis of Detailed Earnings Queries for the noncitizen SSNs in our sample, we found that almost 2 (18 percent) of every 10 noncitizens assigned an SSN in American Samoa in 2007 had no wages posted to their SSA earnings record. Without extensive investigation of each case, we could not readily determine the reason for this situation.
Figure 2: SSNs Assigned in 2007 by Citizenship and Country of Birth
for the Pago Pago, American Samoa, Field Office
Age Range Number of Noncitizens % of Total
0 to 15 20 2
16 to 30 699 67
31 to 50 307 29
51 and above 19 2
Total 1,045 100
Scope and Methodology
To achieve our objective, we:
• Reviewed pertinent sections of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) policies and procedures as well as other relevant Federal laws and regulations.
• Reviewed the current legislation applying Federal immigration law to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
• Reviewed reports and testimony by the Government Accountability Office related to American Samoa and security vulnerabilities in the CNMI and the potential impact of applying U.S. immigration law.
• Obtained a data extract from SSA’s Modernized Enumeration System Transaction History File of 5,229 original Social Security numbers (SSN) that SSA assigned to individuals in the CNMI and American Samoa from January 1 through December 31, 2007.
• From the population of 5,229 SSNs, we randomly selected and reviewed a sample of 200 SSNs. For each sampled SSN, we determined whether SSA personnel followed applicable policies and procedures when processing the SSN application. We independently verified immigration documents and U.S. birth records with the immigration and vital statistics agencies in both insular areas.
• Interviewed representatives from SSA’s Office of Income Security Programs.
• We talked, by telephone, with the managers of the SSA field offices in Saipan, CNMI, and Pago Pago, American Samoa, about their procedures for processing SSN applications.
• Contacted a representative from the Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs to obtain information about immigration issues in the CNMI and American Samoa.
• Contacted a Department of Homeland Security representative to obtain information about the transition to U.S. immigration in the CNMI.
The SSA entity reviewed was the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Operations. We performed our audit at the Office of Audit in Birmingham, Alabama. Our review of internal controls was limited to SSA’s policies and procedures for processing applications for original SSNs at its Saipan and Pago Pago field offices. We relied primarily on Modernized Enumeration System data to complete our review and determined the data used in the report were sufficiently reliable given the audit objective and use of the data. We conducted our work from April through October 2008 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective.
Date: February 9, 2009 Refer To: S1J-3
To: Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr.
From: James A. Winn /s/
Chief of Staff
Subject: Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Draft Report, "Assignment of Social Security Numbers to Individuals in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa"
Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the draft report. We appreciate OIG’s efforts in conducting this review. Our response to the report findings and recommendations are attached.
Please let me know if we can be of further assistance. Please direct staff inquiries to
Ms. Candace Skurnik, Director, Audit Management and Liaison Staff, at extension 54636.
COMMENTS ON THE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (OIG) DRAFT REPORT, "ASSIGNMENT OF SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS (SSN) TO INDIVIDUALS IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS (CNMI) AND AMERICAN SAMOA" (A-08-08-18098)
We have reviewed the subject report and agree with the findings and recommendations. We appreciate your acknowledgement of the work we have done to strengthen the evidence requirements through the changes to the SS5 Assistant. Our responses to the specific recommendations are provided below. We are also providing a technical comment to increase the accuracy of the report.
Establish written policies and procedures, including a list of acceptable immigration and work-authorization documents, for assigning SSNs to noncitizens in the CNMI and American Samoa. When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assumes responsibility for CNMI immigration, SSA should reassess and revise its policies and procedures, as needed.
We agree. We are in the process of writing an Emergency Message (EM) to document which American Samoa immigration and work authorization documents meet our evidence requirements to establish evidence of work authorization. In calendar year (CY) 2009 we will also update the Program and Operations Manual System instructions eliminating any further need for the EM. We anticipate releasing written policies and procedures by the end of
Until DHS assumes responsibility for the CNMI immigration, instruct the Saipan field office personnel to compare signatures on immigration documents provided by noncitizens with a signature list of authorized immigration officials to ensure they match.
We agree. We will include this instruction when we issue written policies and procedures as noted in our response to Recommendation 1.
Reemphasize to Pago Pago field office personnel the importance of following all enumeration policies and procedures.
We agree and have shared the audit findings with the San Francisco Regional Office so that Pago Pago field office personnel are reminded to follow enumeration policies and procedures.
OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
Kimberly A. Byrd, Director, 205-801-1650
Jeff Pounds, Audit Manager, 205-801-1606
In addition to those named above:
Charles Lober, Senior Auditor
For additional copies of this report, please visit our web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/oig or contact the Office of the Inspector General’s Public Affairs Staff Assistant at (410) 965-4518. Refer to Common Identification Number
Commissioner of Social Security
Office of Management and Budget, Income Maintenance Branch
Chairman and Ranking Member, Committee on Ways and Means
Chief of Staff, Committee on Ways and Means
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Social Security
Majority and Minority Staff Director, Subcommittee on Social Security
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on the Budget, House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations,
House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Finance
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Social Security Pensions and Family Policy
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Senate Special Committee on Aging
Social Security Advisory Board
Overview of the Office of the Inspector General
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is comprised of an Office of Audit (OA), Office of Investigations (OI), Office of the Counsel to the Inspector General (OCIG), Office of External Relations (OER), and Office of Technology and Resource Management (OTRM). To ensure compliance with policies and procedures, internal controls, and professional standards, the OIG also has a comprehensive Professional Responsibility and Quality Assurance program.
Office of Audit
OA conducts financial and performance audits of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) programs and operations and makes recommendations to ensure program objectives are achieved effectively and efficiently. Financial audits assess whether SSA’s financial statements fairly present SSA’s financial position, results of operations, and cash flow. Performance audits review the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of SSA’s programs and operations. OA also conducts short-term management reviews and program evaluations on issues of concern to SSA, Congress, and the general public.
Office of Investigations
OI conducts investigations related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in SSA programs and operations. This includes wrongdoing by applicants, beneficiaries, contractors, third parties, or SSA employees performing their official duties. This office serves as liaison to the Department of Justice on all matters relating to the investigation of SSA programs and personnel. OI also conducts joint investigations with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
Office of the Counsel to the Inspector General
OCIG provides independent legal advice and counsel to the IG on various matters, including statutes, regulations, legislation, and policy directives. OCIG also advises the IG on investigative procedures and techniques, as well as on legal implications and conclusions to be drawn from audit and investigative material. Also, OCIG administers the Civil Monetary Penalty program.
Office of External Relations
OER manages OIG’s external and public affairs programs, and serves as the principal advisor on news releases and in providing information to the various news reporting services. OER develops OIG’s media and public information policies, directs OIG’s external and public affairs programs, and serves as the primary contact for those seeking information about OIG. OER prepares OIG publications, speeches, and presentations to internal and external organizations, and responds to Congressional correspondence.
Office of Technology and Resource Management
OTRM supports OIG by providing information management and systems security. OTRM also coordinates OIG’s budget, procurement, telecommunications, facilities, and human resources. In addition, OTRM is the focal point for OIG’s strategic planning function, and the development and monitoring of performance measures. In addition, OTRM receives and assigns for action allegations of criminal and administrative violations of Social Security laws, identifies fugitives receiving benefit payments from SSA, and provides technological assistance to investigations.