A new report from the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs outlines the challenges people have in accessing government services.

A new report from the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs outlines the challenges people have in accessing government services. NurPhoto / Getty Images

The White House promotes success stories in the government’s customer experience push

Filling out forms to recertify for disability insurance is “more frightening than cancer,” one beneficiary said. The Social Security Administration is trying to make it easier.

Filling out the forms to recertify for disability insurance benefits was “more frightening than having cancer – twice,” one individual with a disability told the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during a public listening session, officials noted in a new report

Released Monday, the report details what government agencies are doing to try to reduce administrative burdens. 

In that particular example, the burden looked like “confusing notices, complicated questions and underlying it all, the deep anxiety of potentially losing life-saving assistance.” Administrative burden can also look like time, money and even the headache of trying to understand what the government wants from the individual applying.

The report details responses the office received from 20 agencies on how they were implementing 2022 OIRA guidance that directed agencies to better measure the administrative burdens the public experiences when it interacts with government and then make improvements. 

It details several case studies, including efforts at the Social Security Administration to make the recertification process for disability benefits — described by that one recipient as scarier than having cancer — less onerous.

Specifically, the agency looked at the continuing disability reviews process for benefits — meant to check that beneficiaries still meet SSA’s standards for having a disability. 

As the process is required for most beneficiaries every three years, approximately 540,000 individuals are asked to fill out the form every year to give updated medical, employment and educational information, according to the report.

The impetus for SSA’s push: The agency received public comments during rulemaking suggesting that its longstanding estimate of one hour to fill out the required SSA-454 form for this recertification process was an undercount.

The agency asked for more feedback from the public on the form in 2021, held listening sessions and did discovery research and usability testing.

Then SSA created an online submission tool for the form as an alternative to mailing in those documents available to “many beneficiaries,” the report says. The online version automatically pre-populates information the agency already has about the beneficiary.

The paper form was also shortened by 20%. 

SSA also removed two essay-style questions from the form completely — which asked people to describe what they do in a typical day and whether or not they had “any hobbies or interests” — and made other changes oriented around only getting the minimal information needed for the agency.

The report also included case studies from other agencies, ranging from pilots to move passport renewals online to unemployment insurance and housing program eligibility processes. 

The OIRA report found that many such cases included common themes of agencies taking away documentation and paperwork requirements for government benefits, automatically certifying eligible individuals in one benefit program for other related programs, simplifying forms with plain language and more.

This “burden reduction initiative” using OIRA’s purview over the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 is just one of the Biden administration’s efforts to improve customer experience. The White House also released an executive order on the topic and made CX part of its management agenda for the government. 

OIRA plans to support agencies in embedding their burden reduction work across agency activities and help agencies more deeply engage the public in the work, according to the report. 

“For some families and small businesses, administrative burdens keep them from accessing much-needed benefits altogether,” Sam Berger, OIRA associate administrator, wrote in a blog released alongside the report,

“Others may succeed in accessing benefits — but pay a cost through lost time, additional stress, stigma or more. All too frequently these burdens fall unequally across the population, entrenching disparities,” Berger added. “And these costs do not just carry economic consequences; they also reduce people’s trust in the ability of government to meet their basic needs or operate efficiently and fairly.”