SSA lacks checks for assuring data accuracy, GAO says

SSA lacks checks for assuring data accuracy, GAO says

The Social Security Administration should strengthen the accuracy of its electronic records of disability claims with internal controls for data entry on the front end and a system for back-end verification, a new audit recommends.

Although the accuracy of the data that SSA collects for its disability program is unknown, inadequate data entry controls have resulted in some wrong and missing data, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

A concern, GAO said, is that SSA does not require verification of electronic records against information in the agency's case files.

'While SSA has some internal controls to help capture reliable data, these controls are not sufficient to ensure those data are reliable,' said Robert Robertson, GAO's director of education, workforce and income security issues, noted in the report. The audit agency reviewed electronic records Social Security used in its 2003 disability decisions.

SSA does not collect some information that would enhance program oversight, such as the source and type of medical evidence. At the same time, the agency enters some claimant information into electronic records with codes based on outdated lists, such as for occupations and industries. Data accuracy is important because a majority of disability decisions are not made solely on medical considerations but must include other data, such as vocational and functional capacity.

In its response to the report, the agency cited efforts to ensure the accuracy of its data:

  • SSA is changing the system that field staff members use to key in applicants' disability histories. The Electronic Data Collect System will improve information accuracy, the agency said.

  • The Case Processing Management System implemented this year as part of the agency's electronic disability claims system also contains data entry controls.

  • For back-end quality control, SSA relies on an end-of-line quality review to determine data accuracy.

SSA said it is considering developing an information management plan that would let it systematically assess information needs and make adjustments to systems.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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