SSA launches public data hub for customer service goals

SSA Commissioner Martin O'Malley, shown here at his Senate confirmation hearing in November 2023, is releasing data on agency performance.

SSA Commissioner Martin O'Malley, shown here at his Senate confirmation hearing in November 2023, is releasing data on agency performance. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The new online portal offers a look at how the agency is doing, as its new commissioner passes his 100 day mark on the job.

Social Security Administration Commissioner Martin O’Malley has been on the job for over 100 days, and now the public has the opportunity to follow along with his work against stated agency goals on how SSA serves customers. 

This week, SSA launched a page dedicated to showcasing data around O’Malley’s top priorities to fix customer service problems at the agency charged with delivering disability benefits, retirement payments and more. 

After being confirmed as agency head in December, O’Malley set up an agency-wide performance management program, dubbed SecurityStat, with biweekly meetings across the agency and metrics associated with top customer service goals. 

The new webpage offers the public a glimpse into those numbers, including the processing time for disability claims and performance of the agency's 800 phone line. 

The “crisis” of the agency’s performance, as O’Malley himself has called it, has real consequences. He told Nextgov/FCW in an interview last month that 30,000 individuals died while waiting for a disability determination from the agency during fiscal 2023.

The problem, the agency head says, stems from a mandate to serve more customers with less operating funds per customer and fewer employees. SSA’s funding was essentially flat between fiscal 2018 and 2021, the agency says.

“Years of underfunding have decimated our staffing levels and therefore also our ability to serve the public,” O’Malley said in a statement. “With adequate funding, we can fix our problems, but only if Congress lets us.”

The agency says it authorized thousands of hires after the fiscal 2024 funding was finalized — the agency had been under a hiring freeze — but needs Congress to match its 2025 ask in order to make more progress.

According to the new SecurityStat page, the average wait time for the national 800 number is about 36 minutes, though data from April has pulled the average down, since the wait time last month was 24 minutes on average. Still, not all callers reach a SSA representative. The agency had a 63% answer rate last month.

Individuals can expect to wait 229 days for an initial disability decision, according to the new page. They’ll wait another 225 days for a reconsideration decision and 361 days — nearly a year — for a hearing decision.

The agency is touting the reduction in pending disability appeals hearing decisions pending to below 300,000, what SSA says is a 30-year low. The agency says it was able to do this “with the support of dedicated funding time from Congress.”

SSA has established goals it's aiming to meet for each problem area, as well as for the processing time for benefits. The agency says that open data will be added to the page this summer. 

The publication of the data available now is significant in and of itself, said David Camp — CEO of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, an association for those representing disability claimants.

“I've never seen this much transparency from SSA, an agency where we would normally have needed to use slow and difficult legal requests to get similar information,” he told Nextgov/FCW in a statement. “The data — newly made available — allows advocates, legislators, and the public to see SSA's efforts and dire need for full operations and customer-service funding.”

Among the work that the agency is pursuing to make progress is making SSA communications and websites more simple so that people don’t have to call in to ask for help. SSA has also been making changes meant to address problems with overpayments that have garnered media attention for their impact on beneficiaries. 

In addition to increasing outward visibility of agency progress, SSA is also looking to improve the tech employees use in the disability determinations and appeals process, including by increasing the use of a tool meant to help employees find and organize evidence used to make disability determinations, called the Intelligent Medical Language Analysis Generation, or IMAGEN.