NEW REPORT: Federal Agencies Continue Unnecessary Use of SSNs, More Work Needed to Protect Americans’ Identities

July 27, 2017 — Press Releases   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report requested by House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and former Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on government-wide efforts to reduce Social Security number (SSN) use.

The GAO report found that, although the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) required federal agencies to establish plans to eliminate the unnecessary collection and use of SSNs in 2007, widespread use of SSNs throughout the federal government persists. Early SSN reduction initiatives by the Social Security Administration and the Office of Personnel Management were abandoned, and poor planning and ineffective monitoring by OMB led to limited SSN reduction.

In response to the report’s release, Chairman Johnson said: 

“For years, I’ve called for solutions to address the federal government’s unnecessary use of Social Security numbers. The House has made important progress by getting my legislation to remove SSNs from Medicare cards signed into law, but as this report confirms, we have more work to do to protect the American people from identity theft. We will continue to work to reduce the unnecessary use of SSNs.” 

Based on its findings, the GAO called on the OMB to take a more active role in federal SSN reduction efforts by:

  • Requiring agencies to submit new SSN reduction plans that include performance goals and indicators, measurable activities, timelines, and a description of the roles and responsibilities of agency officials responsible for the achievement of each goal;
  • Requiring agencies to establish inventories of systems containing SSNs and to use these inventories to monitor their SSN reduction efforts;
  • Providing criteria to agencies on how to determine the unnecessary use of SSNs;
  • Taking steps to ensure that agencies provide up-to-date status reports on their progress in SSN reduction in their annual Federal Information Security Modernization Act reports; and
  • Establishing performance measures to monitor agency progress in their reduction efforts.

Through hearings and legislation, the Ways and Means Committee will continue working to protect Americans’ identities and limit how federal agencies use SSNs.

Background:

On May 23, 2017 the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee along with the Oversight and Government Reform Information Technology Subcommittee held a joint hearing to examine how federal agencies are limiting the use of SSNs to protect Americans’ identities. Members also discussed the GAO report’s preliminary findings.

Ways and Means Members are committed to protecting Americans from identity theft through the introduction of two bipartisan bills, the Social Security MAIL Act (H.R. 1513), and the Social Security Child Protection Act (H.R. 1512).  In May, the House passed the Social Security Number Fraud Protection Act (H.R. 624), which included similar reporting requirements to the Social Security MAIL Act.

SUBCOMMITTEE: Social Security