Social Security:

Leadership Structure for an Independent Social Security Administration

HRD-89-154: Published: Sep 13, 1989. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the use of boards to direct the operations of federal agencies, focusing on the appropriate management structure for the Social Security Administration (SSA) as an independent agency.

GAO found that: (1) the board form of organization did not prove effective in providing stable leadership, insulating decisions from political pressures, or ensuring consideration of diverse viewpoints in decision-making; (2) SSA needed more stable and effective leadership because of its size and complexity; (3) a Social Security policy advisory board that reported to the SSA Commissioner could consider major policy questions and proposed changes on a bipartisan basis, but should have no role in SSA management; (4) the absence of a clear delineation of authority and responsibility was the key deficiency of a board structure; (5) the single administrator form of management created a more favorable environment for developing goals and objectives and promptly addressing problems and issues; (6) the board-managed operations of other federal agencies showed a lack of a strong central management authority at the commission level, indecisiveness, neglect of program review and evaluation, and failure to develop long-range goals; and (7) a board had serious disadvantages because of diffused authority and the potential for board members to intervene directly in administrative matters, causing indecision and delay.

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