SSA lags in moving statements online: official

Agency suspended mailings of annual statements to 150 million Americans in March

The Social Security Administration has holes in its plan to stop mailing annual Social Security Statements to 150 million Americans and put all the statements online, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The annual mailed statements are customized for each American worker. They are key documents for informing the workers of their expected future benefits and for helping with retirement planning. Due to budget constraints, the SSA stopped the mailings in March to get savings by putting the statements online.

However, the SSA has many gaps in its preparations for the online statements, Barbara Bovbjerg, managing director of GAO’s office of education, workforce and income security, told a House subcommittee in a statement on July 8.


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The gaps include lacking a schedule or cost estimate for the online statements, or provisions for people without Internet access or limited English, Bovbjerg testified to the House Ways and Means Committee's Social Security Subcommittee.

The SSA intends to move the statements online but does not yet know the timeline for implementation, Bovbjerg said.

Although the SSA is developing a new Web portal for accessing the online statement, the portal development is in the initial development phase and has not been fully tested, she said.

In addition, the SSA does not have plans in place for informing the public about the new online statements, or for ensuring access for individuals without Internet access or English proficiency.

As a result of the holes in planning, the SSA cannot be sure it will save money by moving the statements online, Bovbjerg added.

“Because the agency does not have a total cost estimate for the online statement project, and it is unclear how many workers will request mailed statements after this information is made available online, it is unknown if SSA will realize the budget savings it expects from suspending statement mailings, at least in the short-term,” she said.

In a related area, although the SSA initially plans to major design or content changes to the statements, SSA should consult its own financial literacy program, as well as with other input obtained from the public and from experts, to ensure that the design of the statement and information it contains are as effective as possible, Bovbjerg added.

For example, focus group participants in our prior study suggested that using graphics to replace text would make information more easily understandable, she said.

No SSA executives testified at the hearing, or commented in prepared remarks.

However, Bovbjerg said agency officials made the decision to suspend the statement mailings “relatively abruptly” and the agency faces pressure to restore the statements as soon as possible.

Bovbjerg said because of the same budget constraints the SSA is not in a position to do a major redesign of the statements.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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