Social Security Administration Asked to Improve Interagency Death List

Flickr user dumbeast

As the compiler of the death master list of Americans used by many agencies, the Social Security Administration could do more to reduce data errors and erroneous payments to deceased beneficiaries by clarifying the risks, Congress’ watchdog found.

“SSA lacks written guidelines other than the language in the [Social Security] Act for determining whether agencies are eligible under the act to access the full death file, and it does not share with agencies how it determines the reasonable cost of sharing the data, which recipients of the full file are required to reimburse SSA,” the Government Accountability Office wrote in a report released Dec. 27.

For decades the Social Security Administration has updated the death master list using information from state agencies and families, selling the data to other agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Veterans Affairs Department. It also makes a shortened version available to the public through the Commerce Department’s National Technical Information Service.

But SSA currently verifies only the data needed to confirm eligibility for Social Security checks, and Congress is considering legislation to make full data available to a wider range of agencies.

“Federal benefit programs’ need for accurate administrative data, such as death information, is increasingly evident in an environment of continuing budget shortages, where improper payments due to inaccurate information cost taxpayers billions of dollars in fiscal year 2012,” GAO noted. “Because of its mission, SSA is uniquely positioned to collect and manage death data at the federal level.”

The agency doesn’t know how to address errors or provide other agencies with timely information “because SSA has never analyzed the risk posed by errors or processes that could result in errors,” GAO said.

In addition, SSA’s pricing is insufficiently transparent to ensure that all agencies negotiate similar terms for acquiring the data.

GAO recommended that SSA assess risks associated with inaccuracies; develop and publicize guidance it will use to determine agency access under the law; and share detailed reimbursement estimates.

SSA accepted most of the recommendations but balked at developing and publicizing guidance, stating that each request is unique and that “it is not a typical government business practice to share these detailed costs for reimbursable agreements.”

(Image via Flickr user dumbeast)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.