SSA grows Web services

A month after offering online capabilities for retirement benefit applications,

the Social Security Administration said Dec. 7 that it will expand its electronic

capabilities in 2001 to cover applications for survivor and spousal benefits

and disability compensation.

SSA also may offer online chat communications next year between its

staff and the public — a move that would eliminate thousands of mailings

each year.

Officials and an agency consultant shared their forecast during SSA's

pilot e-government presentation at the General Services Administration.

SSA launched its online retirement application process Nov. 2, and by

Dec. 6, 6,235 people had used the service. Some applicants remarked on the

efficiency of the online process, said William Halter, SSA's deputy commissioner.

"We couldn't have paid for these kinds of quotes," Halter said. One

customer asked, " "Are you guys really a government agency?' "

Even with online applications, some supporting documents, such as birth

certificates, still must be mailed. Halter said that will be eliminated

when documents can be moved and verified electronically. SSA also will conduct

a pilot digital signature program next year.

Of the proposed online chats, V. Douglas Hines of KPMG Consulting LLC

said the feature would allow an SSA staff member to "push" a hyperlink with

additional information to a customer electronically instead of sending the

information through the mail.

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