By Cyril Tuohy
The increase in the number of Social Security Administration (SSA) employees who are expected to retire over the next decade is going to pose long-term challenges for the agency, even as demand for its services is projected to climb steadily, according to a preliminary SSA report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The squeeze will affect the SSA in the areas of staffing, disability claims processing, information technology management and reorganizing the widespread agency’s physical infrastructure, the GAO report found.
More than 7,000 employees at SSA headquarters and 24,000 field agents will be eligible to retire between 2011 and 2020. At the same time, the number of Social Security beneficiaries is expected to rise to 85.4 million people in 2025, from 62.2 million last year, as baby boomers retire and elect to draw on government benefits.
Social Security, which serves nearly every American through old-age and survivors insurance, disability insurance and the Supplemental Security Income program, is the nation’s largest annuity system, making fixed income payments at regular intervals to tens of millions of recipients.
In 2012, SSA issued checks worth more than $826 billion in retirement, disability and supplemental security income to more than 62 million people.
While the agency has taken steps to address long-term planning challenges, existing plans are not enough and will be a priority for the agency’s new administrator. Former Commissioner Michael J. Astrue left in January after completing a six-year term. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin has headed the agency since.
Even as the agency has made strides to improve services, with as much as one-third of the workforce being lost to attrition and budget cutbacks, the agency faces serious issues keeping up with demand.
The number of initial disability claims submitted by applicants has outpaced the agency’s ability to process them, for example, and disability beneficiaries are expected to grow by about 15 percent between 2012 and 2015, the GAO report said.
The agency could do more to protect its information technology infrastructure and be more efficient in consolidating its field offices as the agency and Social Security recipients move to online platforms, the report also said.
The GAO expects to release its final report on the state of the Social Security Administration in June.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer living in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. He has also written about food, restaurants and travel. He can be reached at [email protected].
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