The SSA experienced substantial problems with managing its mail flow due to the pandemic, resulting at first in a backlog including “unopened mail, remittances, unnegotiated benefit checks, documents waiting to be scanned, unprocessed applications for new or replacement SSN cards, and mail the USPS returned to SSA because it was undeliverable,” an IG report has said.
The report was a followup to interim findings issued last year finding that the SSA was not maintaining data on the volume of incoming, outgoing or pending mail and that it lacked performance metrics for processing of mail.
“Mail processing at SSA offices is primarily a manual workload. On-site employees must open and scan program-related mail into a workload management system. Once scanned, remote employees can assign and process the electronic documents. Employees working remotely print materials by routing documents to central print vendors or their local office printers. Then, on-site employees manually sort and mail documents printed in the office,” it said.
As the SSA generally switched to telework due to the pandemic and fewer employees worked onsite mail volume increased but SSA did not track how much unprocessed mail it had, what was it, or how long it has been pending, the report said. That heightened the risk that the SSA would lose or delay returning originals of documents including driver’s licenses, birth certificates, passports, and naturalization documents that customers provided as proof of eligibility for benefits or SSN cards, it said.
Following the initial report of last year, the IG said, the SSA began requiring that office managers submit daily reports of the mail counts and indicate whether they are meeting new timeliness deadlines, and regional staff monitor those reports.
Agency management told the IG that it had eliminated the mail backlogs by last November and that by January of this year almost all of its offices were meeting new timeliness guidelines. However, the IG said it could not confirm those statements because it did not conduct new site visits since then.