Improving Social Security Administration

When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935, the agency now known as the Social Security Administration was born. On the eve of the agency's 75th anniversary, many hope that the Social Security reform debate will gain the same level of attention currently given to immigration and healthcare reform.

With the SSA being the largest governmental program in the world and accounting for almost one-fourth of the federal budget, the administration may not be sustainable without some adjustments. While the reform debate stirs, the administration has made strides toward improving its claims processing, customer service and hearing administration.

In February 2010, the Commissioner of Social Security announced the administration would be adding 38 conditions to its list of 50 compassionate allowances. Compassionate allowances are diseases and conditions that invariably qualify as disabilities under agency guidelines and require relatively little medical documentation. The additional conditions, which include early-onset Alzheimer's disease and mixed dementia, will increase the number of claims that the administration can fast track. The change also frees up agency resources and staff to focus on more complicated applications and claims.

SSA has several initiatives that are geared toward compliance with President Barack Obama's Open Government Policy. The initiatives include a Spanish-language retirement estimator, online service enhancement and online life-expectancy calculators. These innovations are geared toward educating the public and offering more effective online resources. As of late spring, these enhancements and others had earned SSA praise for online public service.

Since 2005, when President George W. Bush proposed Social Security reform, disability hearing backlogs have been a problem. The backlog-reduction plan instituted by the SSA required hiring additional administrative law judges and about 1,000 members of support staff. Four national hearing centers are now able to process video conferences for claimants living in hard-hit areas of the country. As a result, pending hearings are at their lowest levels in five years and the average processing time has been reduced by an estimated 71 days.

For nearly eight decades, the SSA has helped elderly and disabled citizens and their families. In the wave of various reforms, the administration continues to fulfill its mission and develop innovative ways to save money while providing crucial supports to the public.