WASHINGTON -- The Social Security Administration has received a mixed report card from Congress, with grades ranging from an A-minus in providing retirement benefits to an F for dealing with disability benefits.
The House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the Social Security program, surveyed members of Congress about the agency, noting that most complaints about the program generally land on the desks of senators and representatives, making them especially qualified to judge the agency.
On the plus side, the survey found the agency efficiently processes applications for retirement benefits, with most taking just a few weeks.
In issuing its report, the committee noted that during the late 1980s, the agency under went "severe reductions in both its staff and its administrative budget," down 16 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. As a result, the report said, "service to the public in many areas has deteriorated."
Under the Reagan administration, the agency's budget was cut. But rather than reduce Social Security benefits, which would have brought protests from senior citizens, the administration and the Congress opted to cut the program's administrative costs.
The survey showed that the agency is quite efficient at handling routine things, such as processing regular claims for benefits and issuing new Social Security numbers. New numbers are routinely issued in 10 days, it said, a major improvement from five years ago, when it often took 40 days to get a number.
But if a query is unusual, the agency falls down, the report said. The survey gave the agency a B-minus in office waiting times, saying that urban offices generally have longer waits than rural offices, and it got only a C-minus in telephone service, mostly because one in two callers will get a busy signal when calling the toll-free information number.
"Those who deserve retirement benefits should be reassured by these findings," said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill. However, those who are unfortunate enough to become disabled find their problems compounded by the agency's inefficiencies.
"We commend Social Security for its successes and simultaneously demand that it do something about its deficiencies," he said.
Social Security spokesman Phil Gambino said the agency would not repond to the survey because Social Security Commissioner Gwendolyn King had not seen the report.