Subcommittees Announce Joint Hearing on Limiting the Use of Social Security Numbers to Protect Americans’ Identities

May 17, 2017 — Press Releases   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and House Oversight and Government Reform Information Technology Subcommittee Chairman Will Hurd (R-TX) announced yesterday that the Subcommittees will hold a joint subcommittee hearing entitled, “Protecting Americans’ Identities: Examining Efforts to Limit the Use of Social Security Numbers,” on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 2:00 PM in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office BuildingAt the hearing, Members and witnesses will discuss the efforts made by federal agencies to reduce the use of Social Security numbers and protect Americans’ identities

Upon announcing the hearing, Chairman Johnson said: 

“Our Social Security numbers are connected to so many deeply personal aspects of our lives—from our retirement benefits and finances to our medical histories and education. Americans expect and deserve that the government keeps their Social Security numbers protected. Ten years ago, under President Bush’s leadership, federal agencies were told to reduce and replace the use of the SSN. While some progress has been made, the risks of SSNs falling into the wrong hands has serious consequences. This hearing will help us learn what steps federal agencies have taken to protect SSNs and what more needs to be done.” 

Chairman Hurd said:

“In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was hacked, compromising the personal information of over twenty million current and former government employees, myself included. When this information is stolen, it can be used to perpetrate identity theft or worse. Federal agencies need to be able to protect and store sensitive information, and modernizing technology is the most effective way to ensure that proper levels of security are in place. I look forward to hearing from witnesses at this hearing as we work together to secure federal IT systems.”

BACKGROUND

The Social Security Administration created the Social Security number (SSN) in 1936 for the purpose of tracking earnings and administering the Social Security program. 

Due to the widespread use of the SSN as a personal identifier, especially by the financial sector, the SSN has been recognized as a valuable target for identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the lead Federal agency on identity theft, reports of identity theft rose by more than 60 percent from 2006 to 2016.

On May 22, 2007, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released memo M-07-16 that included a requirement for federal departments and agencies to eliminate the unnecessary use of SSNs and to explore alternatives to the SSN for use as a personal identifier for employees and in federal programs. The memo required departments and agencies to develop a plan by the end of November 2007 to eliminate the unnecessary collection and use of SSNs by November 2008. Further, OMB required departments and agencies to provide updates to their reduction efforts as part of the reporting requirement to OMB under the Federal Information Security Modernization Act. 

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee has introduced a bipartisan federal IT reform package to help catch our government up to speed with the 21st Century by incentivizing agencies to implement modern technology. This implementation will be an opportunity for many of these agencies to better protect their use and storage of Americans SSNs.

SUBCOMMITTEE: Social Security