Social Security:

Pension Data Useful for Detecting Supplemental Security Payment Errors

HRD-86-32: Published: Mar 12, 1986. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1986.

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GAO evaluated the Social Security Administration's (SSA) computerized employment pension income database to determine its potential usefulness in detecting payment errors in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program.

Based on its sample results, GAO estimated that, in December 1983: (1) 35,112 SSI cases received pension incomes; and (2) SSA overpaid 6,292 cases a total of $427,200 because it computed benefit payments using incorrect pension income information. At a 95-percent level of statistical confidence, the number of SSI cases receiving unreported or underreported pension incomes could range from 4,915 to 8,053, and the monthly overpayment amounts could range from $266,400 to $588,000. SSA data showed that: (1) most of the cases involved pension-related overpayments that had been occurring for extended periods, some exceeding 10 years; and (2) the 62 overpayment sample cases had accumulated about $170,000 in overpayments. GAO estimated that accumulated overpayments for such SSI cases in December 1983 could total $17.2 million.

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: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Acting Commissioner of Social Security to perform a computer match patterned after a GAO pilot test and consider subsequent periodic matches of the entire SSI benefit file and the W-2P pension file to identify potential overpayment cases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made the first partial match in October 1986, and completed it in December 1986. HHS identified more than 5,400 confirmed overpayment cases totalling $6.49 million and estimates that it will save $6.37 million over a 2-year period, at a cost of $571,500. Subsequent matches will be performed annually, starting in fiscal year (FY) 1988.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Acting Commissioner of Social Security to investigate and resolve, in accordance with existing agency policies and procedures, the cases identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS forwarded identified cases to its field offices for investigation and resolution after the December 1986 match was completed. Field action resulted in identifying over 5,400 overpayment cases totalling $6.49 million and estimated savings of $6.37 million over a 2-year period, at a cost of $571,500. Subsequent matches will be performed annually, starting in FY 1988.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Acting Commissioner of Social Security to comply with all applicable privacy and due process regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HHS complied with privacy and due process requirements, including contacting the recipients when investigating and resolving identified cases.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Acting Commissioner of Social Security to attempt to determine what caused the payment errors and whether corrective actions can be taken to prevent their recurrence.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA conducted a special study of the computer match alerts sent to field offices for investigation and determined that most overpayments identified were the result of recipients not reporting their pension income to SSA. SSA has concluded that the only practical way to deal with this overpayment cause is to do recurring computer matches on an annual basis.

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