Social Security Administration

Shirley S. Chater, Commissioner

Mission Statement

The mission of the Social Security Administration (SSA) is to administer national Social Security programs as prescribed by legislation in an equitable, effective, efficient, and caring manner.

Summary Budget Information

FY 1993 (Actual) FY 1996 (Budgeted)
Budget Staff* Budget Staff
$4.905 billion 66,101 $5.890 billion 64,752
(The Social Security Administration was part of the Department of Health and Human Services until 1995. These budgetary figures represent only SSA's operating costs, not program benefits.)
*1993 Actual is adjusted for comparability to 1996 by inclusion of an estimated $53 million and 1,254 FTEs related to independent agency functions transferred from HHS to SSA in 1995.

Reinvention Highlights

Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law more than 60 years ago, Social Security has been a source of pride for all Americans, and an essential source of income for millions. Whether an older American receiving insurance benefits, a family needing disability or survivors' insurance benefits, or a lower income elderly or disabled person needing Supplemental Security Income, about 48 million people currently receive some form of Social Security payment. Today 141 million workers -- 95 percent of the American workforce -- are covered by Social Security insurance.

With a program touching so many lives, it is essential that the American public have absolute confidence in the Social Security program. In 1994, President Clinton signed into law legislation creating the Social Security Administration as an independent agency. The Commissioner reports directly to the President on the administration of its programs.

Creating World-Class Customer Service. Given the size and scope of its responsibilities, it is vital that the agency strive to provide nothing less than world-class service. When President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced the Administration's National Performance Review (NPR) initiative in 1993, SSA welcomed this new approach. We were determined at the outset to make NPR's focus on customer service an SSA hallmark.

We began our reinvention effort by listening to our customers, employees, stakeholders, Congress, and advocacy groups to find out what we did right and what we could improve upon. We interviewed more than 10,000 customers. We called beneficiaries on the phone; we sent out 26,000 comment cards. We met with employees and stakeholders one-on-one and in larger groups. We drafted proposals for change, then had customers and our staff review them to see what more we could do. Since there is always room for improvement, these efforts continue today.

SSA has achieved a level of world-class customer service about which we can all be proud. You should notice the difference the moment you walk into an SSA office. We've modernized payment delivery through electronic banking. We've increased the number of bilingual employees to make sure our non-English-speaking customers receive the same high quality of service. We are streamlining and automating claims; in one state, individuals can now apply for several government programs with a single application and interview. We've even worked to cut down the waiting time to see an SSA representative.

You may notice the high quality of service without actually having to go to an office at all. Instead of making people who need assistance come to an office, we are going to them. In partnerships with local, state, and federal agencies, there are now SSA representatives at Immigration and Naturalization Service offices, and many other locations such as city and county hospitals.

You should notice our commitment to world-class service when you call us at our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. We've changed two of our three data operations centers from data processing to customer telephone service. We've hired additional representatives to take your calls during the busiest times of the year. And we've installed a 24-hour automated service for routine inquiries.

Is all this making a difference? In a word, yes. In 1995, we handled more than 42-million telephone calls. In 1996, we expect to handle more than 50 million. But it is customer service we are providing, not customer processing. While the volume of inquiries alone is impressive, it is the ability to answer the questions that is the real measure of our success. In 1995, an independent financial services company, Dalbar, Inc., did that measurement for us. Dalbar compared SSA's 800 number phone service along with companies renowned for customer service, such as Disney, Nordstrom, and L.L. Bean. SSA was rated as having the best service.

Throughout SSA, we've reviewed every line of our regulations in order to streamline and clarify them. Our review of the disability claims program was particularly exciting. Reviewing more than 6,000 comments from beneficiaries, we studied every element of the claims process. By FY 2001, we anticipate a major redesign of the disability claims process that will mean that our customers have a faster, more efficient process that is easier to use.

It's More Than Retirement. While streamlining our services, we also began actively educating the public about SSA's programs. By the end of this year, we will have sent a Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement to every worker over the age of 58, and anyone else requesting information. The statement includes all past earnings in SSA records, as well as the recipient's estimated retirement, disability, and survivor benefits. We sent out over 10.7 million statements in FY 1995. By FY 2000, we will be sending annual statements to all workers over the age of 25 -- more than 120 million people.

Social Security isn't just a retirement program; it is a family program as well. So to make sure our younger citizens understand programs such as the agency's aid to the disabled and those who have lost a loved one, we've spoken at colleges, universities, and other organizations; we have provided information to more than 17,000 high schools around the country. Since we realize that effective communication between our customers and staff is essential, we are eager to pursue every avenue possible. Video programming, satellite broadcasts, and the Internet are just a few of the new venues we are using. Our Web site, Social Security Online, offers interactive access to 600 documents; industry publications herald the site as one of the best. And we are using the technology internally as well; we use electronic messaging, videoconferencing, and interactive training technology within SSA on a daily basis.

Using technology of the future is just the latest step in preparing SSA for the future. The changes that we have already made provide better customer service to our beneficiaries now. These changes will also make a difference in service for years to come. Because preparing for our customers' future is what Social Security is all about.


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