The size of government is often overwhelming. The federal government's Social Security Administration (SSA) is a case in point. The agency is massive, as it must process and pay the billions of dollars in retirement and disability payments to millions of Americans every month.
The agency currently has about 63,000 employees. But the workload of SSA is daunting. For instance, the Social Security Disability (SSD) program has approximately 11 million beneficiaries. The annual payments top $135 billion. In 2015, the agency received 2.4 million applications for benefits, and last month, April 2016, it received 234,012.
Simply keeping track of all 11 million recipients is challenging. Each file needs to be up-to- date, with the correct mailing address and bank information. If only 1 percent of these current beneficiaries need to change some of this data, it means 110,000 records that must be changed. With those changes, there need to be quality controls, so more staff are required to manage that additional set of checks on the system.
As SSA has experienced growth in applications, it has not seen growth in staffing, and this results in continuing and growing backlogs. The SSD program benefits are absolutely essential for virtually all of the recipients. These payments often make the difference between have the money for food, rent, or transportation, and doing without.
As the Ranking Democratic member of one Congressional oversight committee points out that it is odd that at a time when the agency is having difficulty simply fulfilling its basic mission to provide benefits, many in Congress seem much more interested in issues that affect far fewer individuals.
While it is obvious that the integrity of the process is important, but many of those problems are due to the failure of Congress to adequately fund the program to ensure it has both the resources to process and award claims on a timely basis and to properly review all elements of the system's integrity.
Source: democrats.waysandmeans.house.gov, "Ranking Member Becerra Opening Statement at Social Security Subcommittee Hearing on Waste, Fraud, and Abuse," Xavier Becerra, May 18, 2016