Balanced Measures Study
Social Security Administration

Site: Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD
Date: Monday, May 3, 1999
Time: 1:30 – 3:30 PM

  • Judy Cohen, Office of Strategic Management
  • Becky Pietra, Office of Strategic Management
  • Laraine Williams, Office of Strategic Management
  • NPR Team: B. Currie, A. Hertz, C. Marshall, K. Monahan, E. Williams


The Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent agency with approximately 65,000 employees. SSA is committed to both the concepts of GPRA and to improving its ability to manage for results on a day-to-day basis at all levels of the Agency. Historically, SSA is an Agency that measures: mostly with a large number of output measures. SSA was a pilot site for the GPRA Annual Performance Plans (APP) in 1994 and focused its plan on what was most important for the Public and for its customers. During the pilot phase, SSA developed a performance measurement framework which initially aligned with 3 strategic goals that ultimately broadened into a balanced set of measures and 5 Strategic Goals – Responsive Programs, World-Class Service, Best-in-Business Management, Values Employees, and Public Understanding. SSA has used a variation of the balanced scorecard concept since 1994.

SSA has on-going executive sponsorship for each strategic objective, with an internalized process for sponsorship accountability. Process owners and champions are identified throughout the planning process. The Office of Strategic Management developed a Planning Guide to help support strategic management within the Agency.

The strategic management focus is on "Programs for Objective Achievement (POAs)". A POA is a written plan identifying a set of strategies and "key initiatives" proposed by an Executive sponsor (or team of co-sponsors) that lead to the achievement of a strategic objective. The POA reflects the GPRA focus on results, and ensures that SSA’s activities are tied directly to its Agency Strategic Plan and APP’s. Budget and IT system resources are allocated to those initiatives determined to be "key initiatives". This strategic management framework and process allows SSA to evaluate and act upon the plans, actions, and performance measures and targets on an ongoing basis.


  • Historically, there have always been a large number of output measures used by SSA, but after GPRA was enacted, SSA became one of the Performance Plan pilot sites (1994). They created a workgroup to develop a performance measurement framework and strategic goals. They focused on what was most important for the Public and for the Customers.
    • In developing its first GPRA Agency Strategic Plan (ASP), SSA’s Executive Staff stated the Agency’s mission as "To promote the economic security of the nation’s people through compassionate and vigilant leadership in shaping and managing America’s social security programs", and then went to on develop the current 5 strategic Goals and Objectives.
  • SSA’s 5 strategic goals and objectives cut across all programs and encompass all of the Agency’s administrative activities. The 5 goals are:
    • To promote valued, strong and responsive social security programs and conduct effective policy development, research and program evaluation
    • To deliver customer-responsive, world-class service
    • To make SSA program management the best-in-business, with zero tolerance for fraud and abuse
    • To be an employer that values and invests in each employee
    • To strengthen public understanding of the social security programs
  • SSA’s planning process includes the development of POAs. POAs is a guiding plan identifying key initiatives and strategies proposed by an Executive Sponsor. It identifies the needed resources and links the resources with the performance targets and for an ROI.
  • With the focus of planning on performance, the major criterion for approval or continuation of KIs is the extent to which they contribute to the achievement of Agency strategic objectives. Accordingly, the Executive Staff considers proposed initiatives based on whether a compelling business case for a proposed or existing initiative has been presented. The business case answers the key question: "Why should SSA do this initiative, in terms of the cost and the intended benefits?" Benefits are to be presented in terms of the contribution of the initiative to achievement of one or more strategic objectives.


  • An executive sponsor or a team of co-sponsors manages each strategic objective. Sponsors are accountable for achieving progress against measurable results and ensuring the integration of Agency activities necessary to achieve the goal.
  • Sponsors are responsible for developing POAs to include development of objectives, performance indicators, annual and long range performance targets, identify the gap between current and target performance, propose strategies and initiatives to close the gap and establish a team to for managing the achievement of the objectives.
  • SSA’s approach to accountability is evolving, but its purpose is clear: to ensure that progress is being made toward meeting the Agency’s strategic goals and objectives. At this point, the approach includes several mechanisms that collectively keep the Agency on track. Included are:
    • Quarterly Performance Reviews: Once a quarter, SSA Executives from across the Agency meet to assess performance in various Agency-wide business processes. In these sessions, particular emphasis is on strategic objectives that impact field operations.
    • Additional Performance Reviews: Additional reviews may be held as needed to focus on progress in accomplishing Agency performance goals. Topics may also include setting or reconsidering short-range performance indicators or targets, issues needing resolution and raised by Executives about individual objectives they sponsor, and introduction of new KIs.
    • Monthly Tracking of Performance: SSA has an Executive Management and Information Systems which provides a library of Agency-level performance information used by SSA’s Executive Staff for decision-making purposes.
  • Many SSA components and individuals are involved in the planning process in support of the Executive Staff and POA sponsors. These include, among others: Component Planning Representatives, Component Budget Analysts, and Key Initiative Team Leads. A budget analyst is assigned to each objective and to each key initiative.


  • It is the objective sponsor’s responsibility to assure that a measurement system is in place to yield valid and reliable measures of performance and to identify a timetable for assessing performance.
  • Performance data for quantifiable measures are generated by automated management information and workload measurement systems as a byproduct of routine operations.
  • The performance level for several indicators relating to the accuracy of our processes and public satisfaction comes from surveys and workload samples designed to achieve very high levels (usually 95 percent confidence level) of statistical validity.
  • Customer input comes from a variety of sources including market measurement surveys, focus groups, comment cards, and feedback to web sites.
  • Employee input comes from a variety of sources including employee satisfaction surveys and focus groups.
  • Each performance indicator is documented with its strategic goal, strategic objective, objective sponsor, definition, use, data source and contact, frequency of reporting, and validity and reliability.
  • The monthly status of the performance indicators is available to sponsors and their staff on the Executive and Management Information System Intranet site.


  • An Integrated Evaluation Plan ensures that each strategic goal, objective and Agency business process is appropriately evaluated to assess performance. It also ensures that there is no duplication in the evaluation processes and that the proper evaluations are being conducted.
  • There is an agency-wide coordination to minimize duplication in evaluation of performance and initiatives.


  • Customers receive a pamphlet on achievement of Customer Service Standards - "Reports to Customers".
  • The Agency’s Strategic Plan, Annual Performance Plan, and Accountability Report are available to customers on SSA’s Internet Web site.
  • Employees have access to these same plans and reports on the Intranet web site.


  • The strategic measurement framework ensures linkage between the body of 64 Key Initiatives with the Goals and Objectives in the Strategic Plan and the Annual Performance Plan
  • "Key Initiatives (KIs) are considered Agency priorities, and therefore are afforded a high priority in determining the work of the Office of Systems. KIs’ designations (as Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3) impact the level and timing of Systems’ commitment to support them.
  • During the development of the Agency’s annual budget, the Executive Staff makes investment decisions and tradeoffs focused on how best to support the Agency’s strategic priorities. Objective sponsors then consider the impact of these budget decisions, especially concerning KIs, on their performance targets.


Best Practices/Enablers

  • True Leadership by the Executives. Participation by the Executive Staff in development of the performance measures for which they will be accountable helps to create ownership. They must be clear in expectations and true champions of the performance objectives they sponsor. However, this is an iterative process of change.
  • Quarterly Executive Management Meetings. Quarterly management meetings at which objective sponsors report are an effective mechanism to support accountability for performance.
  • The Planning Guidance Document. The Office of Strategic Management develops an annual guidebook that describes an overview of the planning framework and guides the development and management of Agency plans. It provides a consistent process for staff to follow and reduces the learning curve. The Planning Guide helps drive strategic management throughout the Agency.
  • Knowledge. It helps to continue to train and orient employees at all levels on the strategic planning process. Training and technical support continue to be provided to professional staff involved in performance management. Provide desk-to-desk distribution of Annual Performance Plan (all in HQ and to all managers) and Strategic Plan as a reference tool for day-to-day work.
  • Customer Focus. This is the underpinning of Agency planning.
  • Budget and Planning Post-Mortems. Planning and budget process improvements for the next annual cycle are identified as a result of these meetings.


  • Change is hard, but the more you involve and communicate, the more quickly change occurs.
  • Executives are busy with near term management. It is important to make the strategic management process as painless as possible so they can also effectively focus on the long term – staff involvement and support is key.
  • Need involvement of program experts in area you’re measuring. Since they will be held accountable, they need to be involved.
  • Champions and process owners are an integral part of the planning process
  • In order for performance to be used to manage, there needs to be a tie-in to systems and budgeted resource allocation.
  • Coordination is needed at the Executive and staff levels. Must have Executive ownership and involvement. Staffs do what their bosses are interested in and what is measured.
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