Auditors recommend SSA create an online customer service plan

The Social Security Administration should develop a long-range plan for how it will use the Internet to provide better customer service, the agency's internal watchdog said this week.

The agency has done a lot of short-range planning for Web-enabled customer services in its strategic plan, but most of those plans are in the three to five year range. The agency's inspector general recommends creating a 10-year plan.

The push for longer-range planning stems in part from a White House initiative directing agencies to streamline their online customer service, as well as from increasing demands from tech-savvy baby boomers as they reach retirement, according to the report, which was given to congressional requesters in July.

SSA agreed with a draft version of the report and said it will develop a 10-year online customer service plan.

The majority of SSA's interaction with retirement and disability beneficiaries still takes place in person or on the phone, but that balance is rapidly shifting to online support. More than 35 percent of retirement claims and more than 25 percent of disability claims were filed online during fiscal 2010, according to the IG.

Overall Internet use among 50 to 64 year olds rose 117 percent between 2000 and 2010, the report said.

"SSA's long-term customer service delivery plan must recognize that a majority of the customers it will serve in 10 years will expect to conduct business electronically, conveniently and without the intervention of an agency employee," the report said, noting that SSA's Future Systems Technology Advisory Panel recommended the agency "prepare to move to an electronic self-service model where 90 percent of its business is online."

The long-range report should include a detailed assessment of the agency's hardware, software, data storage, staffing and funding needs for online customer service over the next decade, the IG said.

The report generally praised SSA's existing 21 online citizen services, such as portals that collect disability information and that allow applicants to check the status of their claims online.

The agency is also working on an online portal that will allow people to access their Social Security statements online and, ultimately, other information.

When the project is complete, people will be able to use a single username and password to access all of Social Security's online services, officials said.