One of the largest burdens on Social Security each year is creating "Benefit Verification Letters" for citizens. They are used to verify things like benefit enrollment for purposes of state program eligibility, proof of income for loans, and even birthdate! But due to the wide and undefined range of use, the agency will customize the letter to include whatever a citizen wants.
The process is done in-person or by phone. It creates a significant workload for representatives to determine what the citizen needs and make the letter. The request is then sent to a remote printing facility and mailed to the citizen's home on agency letterhead. Tens of millions of letters are created this way each year, costing untold man hours and printing/postage fees.
Several steps can be taken to resolve this:
1) Standardize the letter and purpose. Official documents should be consistent in format, content and use. Meet with the community to define goals and identify what info must be included to meet them. If needed, create two or more standard letter types (ex: proof of income, enrollment status). No more custom letters!
2) Allow citizens to sign in to SSA.gov and self-print. Advertise the feature!
3) Allow representatives to print the new standardized letter(s) AT the office for citizens who cannot do so online. The request becomes a simple effort and cuts postage costs.
To combat misuse and allow 3rd-parties to confirm a letter is real:
1) Place the following information on all letters:
• a string of characters that is unique to the instance being printed
• the date that the letter was issued (expire after X months)
• a URL where the letter can be verified (ex: www.ssa.gov/lettercheck)
2) Create a web service at the URL for 3rd parties to enter the claim number (on letters now), unique code, and issue date. If valid, the service would return just enough random bits of data from the letter to verify it.
This process could save $$$ and be a valuable service to citizens.