The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report in the spring acknowledging problems with the handling of mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, there are indications that the issue has begun to ease.
The report, titled The Social Security Administration’s Mail Processing During the COVID-19 Pandemic, concluded that the “SSA needs to improve its ability to timely process incoming and outgoing mail, noting the Agency’s reliance on manual processing.”
“The services and programs that SSA provide are critical for the beneficiaries who rely on them, and for other agencies that depend on SSA’s records,” said Gail S. Ennis, inspector general for the SSA, upon the release of the report. “We are pleased that SSA has reportedly improved some of the issues identified in our interim report and hope that SSA continues to improve its handling of documents and mail processing,” Ennis continued.
The report asked for a corrective action plan within thirty days. As noted by CNBC, the report found a number of improvements in recent months, including the elimination of some backlogs. These improvements came after the SSA agreed to implement all the recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General.
The Social Security Administration was urged to do the following eight steps:
- “If cost-effective, invest in software and equipment to reduce manual processing of incoming mail.
- Expand the use of Post Office Boxes for long-term, high-volume workloads.
- If cost-effective, outsource additional mail duties to contractors.
- Incorporate centralized printing of forms and notices into SSA’s systems modernization efforts.
- Implement policy and operational changes, where appropriate, to decrease reliance on original documents.
- Implement options for customers to submit the most frequently used forms online.
- Implement capabilities for employees to securely correspond with the public electronically.
- Implement online versions of the most frequently sent notices.”
“Based on our interim report, SSA established procedures and timeliness guidelines to better manage its mail workload,” the Inspector General’s report said. “As of January 2022, SSA reported approximately 99 percent of its offices were meeting the new timeliness guidelines. We did not verify that SSA offices accurately reported the timeliness of their mail workloads or that SSA’s new mail procedures were working as intended. Representatives from the National Council of Social Security Management Associations indicated its members expressed concern that adhering to the timeliness guidelines adversely affects other workloads,” it continued
Back in May, the House Ways and Means Committee held hearings on “Strengthening Customer Service at SSA.” Republicans on the committee had called for the hearings ahead of the April reopening of Social Security offices after two years of closures.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.