Social Security to Offer More Online Options

WASHINGTON (07/10/2000) - The U.S. Social Security Administration uses technology to help keep millions of Social Security recipients informed about programs and benefits, but greater emphasis will be placed on online transactions between the agency and its customers and business partners in the future, an agency official said Monday.

Social Security's Web site already offers a wealth of information for the more than 50 million beneficiaries, said William Halter, deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. But the agency's next step will be to go beyond information dissemination "and give our customers the opportunity to conduct business with us online."

Social Security plans to offer recipients the option to conduct a number of online transactions so that they will be able to do business with the agency 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. That will include filing for benefits online, obtaining account status information online and notifying the agency of an address change.

"The main reason for Social Security moving to online transactions is that the American public wants it and we aim to satisfy our customers," Halter said in a keynote speech on the opening day of E-Gov, a conference that focuses on how technology can be used to transform the way government does business.

In a few months Social Security will provide an online application for filing for retirement benefits, Halter said. The agency currently processes more than 3 million such applications per year and expects the number of applicants filing online to grow as rapidly as the Internal Revenue Service's online tax filing option has grown.

The Social Security Administration on Tuesday will announce the availability of an online application for people who need a replacement benefit card, Halter said. Other plans call for Social Security's business partners and doctors and hospitals to be able to file reports online.

Social Security is involved in a joint effort with business partners to test a number of new Internet technologies over the next 90 days that could enhance customer service, including instant messaging, secure e-mail and voice over the Internet, he said.

The agency has no choice but to increase the use of technology because its workload is going to double in the coming years as the nation's 76 million baby boomers begin to reach retirement age, Halter said.

"We're going to depend heavily on technology to handle our future workloads to do it under pressure and to continue to provide the same caliber service, the same world-class service, that our customers have come to expect," he said. "In short our goal is for the Social Security Administration to be the leading federal agency in moving to online transactions."

Social Security makes 600 million benefit payments annually to the 50 million beneficiaries, dishing out some US$400 billion, or one of every $4 spent by the federal government.

Social Security's Web site offers information on retirement, disability and survivor benefits programs in English and Spanish, and visitors can download forms and subscribe to a free e-mail publication. A separate Web site created by the agency serves disabled people looking for work and employers interested in hiring them.

In April the agency began offering a Social Security retirement planner, which allows people to compute an estimate of their future Social Security retirement benefits.

The Social Security Administration can be found on the Web at http://www.ssa.gov.

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