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Monday, October 18, 2010

Social Security Administration: Workload and Related Issues

Christine Scott
Specialist in Social Policy

The Social Security Administration (SSA), a U.S. government agency, is in charge of regulating and adhering to policies related to Social Security benefits. The SSA workload covers a wide range of social services, such as disability, retirement, and survivors’ benefits. In addition, SSA provides substantial administrative support to Medicare and other programs, and partners with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in verifying employment eligibility. SSA also assists with the administration of other programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, Railroad Retirement benefits, and Special Benefits for Certain World War II Veterans.

Since becoming an independent agency in 1994, SSA has been wholly responsible for managing its workload. SSA’s workload is growing as the population ages, the baby boomers retire, the economic situation worsens, and the agency takes on new and more complex responsibilities. About 70% of SSA’s administrative funding is used for personnel costs, yet SSA’s staffing level has not been adequate to handle its workload. Additionally, many of the agency’s employees are at or nearing retirement age. Over half of the SSA workforce is projected to be eligible to retire by FY2017, including 70% of supervisors.

SSA has struggled in recent years to provide quality service to the public and to manage its substantial and varied administrative responsibilities. This is most evident in the significant backlogs that have emerged in its disability programs and hearings to appeal initial decisions. In FY2009, SSA reported that approximately 380,000 disability claims and approximately 256,822 hearings were considered backlogged. Additionally, SSA has not had sufficient resources to conduct necessary program integrity activities, including continuing disability reviews (CDRs), and social security insurance (SSI) redeterminations. SSA estimates that the return on investment for CDRs is about $10 in lifetime program savings for every $1 spent in conducting them and $8 over 10 years for every $1 spent for conducting redeterminations. However, in the past, due to short-term administrative expenses, SSA has shifted available funds and staff toward basic service delivery and away from program integrity.

In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L. 111-5), which provided SSA with more than $1 billion in funding, enabling the agency to hire more staff, process more hearings and initial disability reviews, make technological advances, and increase its productivity. Congress could facilitate additional changes at SSA through the appropriations and oversight processes. Options for congressional action include changing the amount of SSA’s administrative expenses and how they are financed.

This report provides an overview of SSA’s workload, resources, service delivery, and related issues. It will be updated annually to reflect current data on SSA’s ability to handle its growing workload and deliver service based on its available resources.

Date of Report: October 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 51
Order Number: R40207
Price: $29.95

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