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Social Security Told To Improve Online Services

Federal auditor says the agency needs a long-term plan to meet increasing demand for online customer self-service.

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Given the number of people Social Security Administration (SSA) services reach and the increase in their use of online options, the agency should develop a stronger long-term plan for online customer self-service, a federal auditor said.

While most people are still doing business with the SSA through field office visits and telephone calls, their use of the agency's Internet services are steadily increasing, according to a report by the agency's Inspector General (IG).

In fiscal year 2010, for example, customers filed 37% of retirement claims and 27% of disability claims via the agency's online systems, a percentage the SSA hopes to increase to 50% and 38% this coming fiscal year.

In fact, the Future Systems Technology Advisory Panel (FSTAP), an independent panel that advises the SSA on technology matters, has recommended that SSA prepare to move to an electronic self-service model where 90% of its business is online in 10 years, according to the IG.

To do so, the agency must create a long-term plan that prepares for those increased workloads and service delivery, according to the IG.

"The plan must outline what the service delivery environment will be long-term, including what services customers will expect and how they will want services delivered," according to the IG. "The plan must be a roadmap that ensures the agency is technologically and structurally prepared with appropriate staff to operate its programs in the future."

The SSA also must build timelines and performance metrics to ensure the agency can achieve the goals of the plan, the auditor added.

As of June 2011, the SSA already offered 21 citizen-to-government electronic services via the Internet as part of a conscious shift to leverage the Web more to engage with its customers. In fact, earlier this year the agency's IG praised its iClaim online claims-filing system for its ease of use, even for people who didn't grow up using the Internet.

It's also working to expand its online services by creating a customer portal, according to the IG. For instance, the agency is developing a personal account portal, known as MySSA, which should be available in fiscal year 2012. The service will allow people to access their statements online through a secure portal as well as verify benefits, change an address, or access direct deposit services. Eventually, the agency hopes to expand access to all of its online services on MySSA.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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