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March 22,2022

Washington D.C.–U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ranking
Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Finance Committee Member Todd Young
(R-Indiana), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions
and Family Policy, along with all other Finance Committee Republicans, sent a letter requesting U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Yellen provide an update on
the status of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds reports, which by
law are to be issued annually by April 1.  

The reports have rarely
been distributed on time in recent years, with the 2021 report not delivered
until August 31.  While the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
has made recommendations
to Treasury on process improvements in recent years, the recommendations have
not been fully incorporated into the process for developing the trust fund
reports.  As Managing Trustee of the trust funds, it is the responsibility
of the Treasury Secretary to provide these reports to Congress in a timely
manner, as required by law, or provide Congress and the American people with
explanations for late work. 

From the letter: 

“The 2021 trustees report
was released 152 days late, with little-to-no information provided to the
public and to Congress explaining the reasons for, and the expected duration
of, the delay.”… “Before Congress debates
any further legislation that impacts either the Medicare or Social Security
programs, it is imperative that policymakers have accurate and timely
information regarding the financial operations of these critical safety-net
programs.”… “For Congress and the
public to provide effective oversight of the Social Security and Medicare
programs and trust funds, your role as Managing Trustee of the boards of
trustees for Social Security and Medicare requires that you provide timely
information as required by the law.”   

Read the full letter here
or below.  

___________________________________
  

Dear Secretary Yellen, 

The Social Security Act
requires that reports analyzing the current and projected financial status of
both the Social Security and Medicare trust funds be issued annually, and no
later than April 1 of each calendar year.  According to the U.S.
Government Accountability Office (GAO), the trustees have consistently failed
to release these mandated reports to Congress on time.  In 2019, GAO
stated that the trustees had missed their statutory deadline in 17 of the
preceding 25 years.  The 2021 trustees report was released 152 days late,
with little-to-no information provided to the public and to Congress explaining
the reasons for, and the expected duration of, the delay. 

Regrettably, 2008 was the
last year in which the statutory reporting deadline had been
satisfied.   Congress continues to make key decisions regarding
fiscal spending and long term outlays through the current budgetary window
(2022-2031).  Either through reconciliation or regular order, there is
every expectation that Congress will consider additional health care related
legislation this year.  Before Congress debates any further legislation
that impacts either the Medicare or Social Security programs, it is imperative
that policymakers have accurate and timely information regarding the financial operations
of these critical safety-net programs.  Exacerbating this problem further,
since 2016, there have been no public trustees confirmed to serve as public
voices in communicating the state of the trust funds to the American
public.  Denying participation of public trustees in the report
development process effectively denies the American people a voice when it
comes to Social Security and Medicare. 

Seeking to amend this broken
reporting process, Republicans in Congress asked GAO to review the trustees report
development process and provide recommendations to improve or modify it. 
In 2019, GAO submitted two suggestions for executive action to address the late
issuance of reports: 

  1. The Treasury Secretary,
    as Chair of the Boards of Trustees, should work with the other trustees to
    take steps that improve the management of the report development schedule
    in order to provide trustees reports to Congress by the statutory
    deadline.
  2. The Treasury Secretary,
    as Chair of the Boards of Trustees, should work with the other trustees to
    establish a policy of informing congressional committees of jurisdiction
    when the reports are expected to miss the deadline, including the factors
    contributing to the delays and the expected issuance dates.
     

A subsequent September 30,
2021 GAO report noted that Treasury had taken relatively minor steps to improve
report management, but that overall the suggested recommendations have not been
fully implemented.  On the first recommendation, GAO observed, “Other than
tracking the planned and actual dates of each reporting cycle, Treasury has not
told [GAO] about any other steps it took to manage the report development
schedule…” 

On the second recommendation,
GAO noted that agency officials representing the trustees and overseeing the
development of the reports indicated that a policy had been established to
notify Congress if the trustees anticipated issuing the reports after the April
1 statutory deadline.  According to GAO, that new policy states that “the
chairperson of the working group will ‘assess the need to notify Congress of
the reports’ timing.’”  GAO continued, “The policy does not specify how
the trustees would make that assessment, nor does it mention including the
reasons for the delay in this communication to Congress.”  A Treasury
official acknowledged that they did not interpret GAO’s recommendation to mean
that the policy itself had to address communicating the reasons for the delayed
report.  Consequently, GAO deemed the Treasury response inadequate,
saying, “This policy does not fully address our recommendation because it
implies that notifying Congress should be discretionary and does not call for
any explanation for the delays and updated time frames.  The policy should
serve as a prompt for subsequent working groups to provide timely updates and
address all of the information we recommended communicating to Congress.”  

Although GAO observed that
agency officials had informed congressional staff via an email in March 2021
that Treasury anticipated missing the statutory reporting deadline by “at least
eight weeks,” GAO also noted that Treasury officials failed to follow-up with
congressional staff until the reports were publicly issued on August 31,
2021.  GAO further reported that Treasury stated its intention to have
provided an additional update in May, but that this communication had not
occurred “due to an internal miscommunication.” 

While the COVID-19 pandemic
affected every part of society in 2020 and 2021, the delayed issuance of the
trustees reports in those years remained consistent with the long-term trend of
administrations evading, or at the very least, failing to uphold, their
statutorily-defined duties.  The specific lack of responsiveness exhibited
by Treasury staff last year, which Senator Crapo detailed in his previous
letter to you of August 5, 2021, indicates that proactive outreach by Congress
continues to be met with no substantive actions to improve matters.   

Furthermore, the leadership
void at the Social Security Administration created by the politicized firing of
Commissioner Saul and Deputy Commissioner Black, and the continuing vacancies
of the public trustee positions for both Social Security and Medicare, cannot
excuse the remaining members of the boards for their noncompliance.  This
Administration has made itself and one political party solely responsible for
the management of Social Security and Medicare, and it now bears the duty to
provide a comprehensive update on its management to the congressional
committees of jurisdiction. 

We therefore urge you, as
Managing Trustee, to fully incorporate GAO’s 2019 recommendations, including
these examples of actions GAO listed in their 2021 report: 

  • Prioritizing meeting the
    statutory deadline;
  • Reviewing progress;
  • Obtaining buy-in on
    timeliness goals from key officials;
  • Learning from past
    reporting cycles;  and
  • Informing Congress.  

Our understanding is that
Treasury received an advanced draft of GAO’s 2021 report, and that Treasury is
committed to improving the reports’ timeliness, as well as “…to communicating
with Congress on these issues, [including to] track and log working group
notifications to Congress on report timing going forward to promote the
delivery of prompt updates.”  

For Congress and the public
to provide effective oversight of the Social Security and Medicare programs and
trust funds, your role as Managing Trustee of the boards of trustees for Social
Security and Medicare requires by law that you provide timely information. 

As we now approach the April
1 deadline, we request that you provide: 

  1. An update on the status
    of the 2022 report and when you expect to release the report. 

  2. The log of working group
    notifications to Congress on report timing over the past year that
    Treasury committed to GAO that it would track.
  3. An exposition of if –
    and, if so, how – you intend to change internal processes and possibly
    Board bylaws to institute protocols that ensure timely and regular
    notification to Congress and the public, as well as a timeline for
    completion of such changes. 
     

Neither we nor our staffs
have received any communications regarding the development of the 2022 trustees
reports, causing concern about their status. 

We respectfully request that
you, as Managing Trustee, commit to developing better policies, more in line
with GAO’s recommendations, to keep the congressional committees of
jurisdiction and the public regularly informed of the anticipated report
delivery dates when trustees anticipate missing the statutory deadline of April
1.  Doing so will ensure that the management of these important programs
will remain accountable to the American people under both Republican and
Democratic administrations. 














































































































Sincerely,

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