Senior Policy Analyst
Now that Congress has agreed to raise the caps on discretionary spending in 2018 and 2019, policymakers have another chance to adequately fund technology upgrades that would improve the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) payment accuracy and prevent fraud. The 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) required SSA to make some of these improvements, but it didn’t provide the agency with all of the necessary funding to make the technology upgrades that would bring about these improvements. In addition, policymakers have cut SSA’s budget in recent years even as demands on the agency have reached record highs (see chart).
Now, with a larger pot of discretionary dollars, lawmakers should reverse SSA’s cuts and invest in the BBA’s common-sense improvements — particularly short-term IT improvements to streamline SSA benefit administration, which would generate long-term savings for taxpayers.
Past budget cuts have forced SSA to freeze hiring, close field offices, shorten field office hours, and reduce the number of Social Security statements it sends out. And as SSA increasingly struggles to provide basic services to the public, it also struggles to assume new work that the BBA requires. Thus, SSA has implemented some of the BBA’s common-sense improvements more slowly and less fully than if the agency had received adequate funding — ultimately generating fewer savings than they could have.
Here are three key BBA provisions that require a short-term IT investment to generate long-term taxpayer savings:
These worthwhile initiatives each require investments of money and staff time to do things like set up data-sharing agreements, arrange and pay contracts with private companies, update SSA software, and train employees to use the new data. While SSA works to implement these initiatives, it also faces other large IT workloads, such as updating its antiquated and inefficient systems. The agency can fund only so many investments at once on a very tight budget. With additional funding, SSA could implement BBA improvements faster and better — ultimately saving taxpayer money.