It is sometimes necessary to examine whether longstanding practices continue to bring value to the American public. Issuing Social Security cards is likely such a process for SSA, with the agency replacing 10 million replacement cards annually. Eliminating or minimizing this workload would result in sizable direct cost savings, relieve SSA of a burdensome auxiliary mission, reduce instances where the public needs to visit Social Security offices, and improve security of Social Security number (SSN) verification.
When first issued in 1936, employers would use the cards to affirm that SSA issued a particular SSN. SSA has since introduced telephone and Internet services to allow employers to verify SSNs without a physical card; these services are secure, and the transaction cost is virtually zero.
Social Security cards are not identity documents; they establish that an SSA issued an SSN to an individual with a given name. Since employers can verify all the information on the card independently of the card itself, there is little security benefit in the card itself being secure. Rather than issue secure cards, SSA could issue a paper notice that would include the number holder's SSN along with any employment restrictions that are currently printed on the card. Employers would verify the SSN against existing phone and Internet processes without physical possession of a card.
Eliminating the card may require legislative action since the Social Security Act compels SSA to issue cards. But even absent new legislation, SSA can aspire to minimize the number of cards it issues. SSA could launch a campaign targeted to employers reaffirming that a card is not required for employment, and collaborate with stakeholders to encourage policies permitting electronic verification of SSNs in place of the cards themselves. These incentives would reduce the incidences where the physical cards are necessary, and the public would less frequently be compelled to replace lost cards.