Social Security:

Most Social Security Death Information Accurate But Improvements Possible

HEHS-94-211: Published: Aug 29, 1994. Publicly Released: Aug 29, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the reliability of the death information that the Social Security Administration (SSA) routinely shares with other federal agencies.

GAO found that: (1) most of the death file information SSA shares with other federal agencies is accurate; (2) less than 1 percent of the nearly 365,000 death files reviewed were inaccurate; (3) SSA needs to improve its handling of cases erroneously terminated, processing of rejected death reports, nonbeneficiaries' information processing, and use of feedback from other agency death investigations; (4) although SSA normally restores benefits to beneficiaries that are removed from the rolls because of inaccurate death reports, it does not always correct the inaccurate death file; (5) SSA can improve the accuracy of its death files by updating them when reports of death are found to be erroneous; (6) SSA death file information would be more complete if SSA improved its ability to correctly identify and record a greater number of rejected death reports; (7) other federal agencies using SSA death information for persons not receiving social security or supplemental security income benefits may be using incorrect information because SSA does not verify deaths for nonbeneficiaries; (8) feedback from agencies that independently verify SSA death reports could assist SSA in correcting the erroneous information in its death files; (9) although all agencies are required by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide SSA with death information, the reporting instructions do not clearly indicate the types of information required or how frequently the agencies should provide this information; and (10) SSA systems are not capable of processing death information from other agencies.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To maintain the most accurate death information possible, the Commissioner of Social Security should update the death file for cases that are found to be erroneously terminated and modify SSA requirements for processing death reports to reduce the number of rejected reports.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 1994, SSA issued new guidance to all field offices to update the death file for cases found to be erroneously terminated.

    Recommendation: To maintain the most accurate death information possible, the Commissioner of Social Security should establish a system to: (1) process feedback received from other federal agencies on erroneous SSA death information; and (2) correct erroneous information in order to increase the accuracy of the SSA death file.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Implementation of this recommendation requires that OMB clarify requirements for other federal agencies to provide SSA with feedback on erroneous death terminations. SSA has no plans to implement this recommendation without OMB direction. To date, OMB has been unresponsive about taking action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should inform other agencies that death reports received by SSA for nonbeneficiaries have not been verified and, thus, may have an increased chance of error.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When providing death information to other entities, SSA notifies them that this information has not been verified and they should independently verify the data before terminating benefits in their programs.

    Recommendation: The Director, OMB, should clarify the requirements for agencies in OMB Circular 92-04 for providing feedback to SSA derived from their investigations of death reports.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: To date, OMB has been unresponsive about taking action on this recommendation. SSA has no plans to implement this recommendation without OMB direction.

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