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New Year's resolutions for social security. Streamlining system; catching illegal workers

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Dorcas Hardy has ambitious plans for the Social Security Administration. As its commissioner, she wants to emphasize service, increase productivity, and combat what she sees as a ``mini-crisis of public confidence'' in social security, especially among the young.

In the spring the Social Security Administration also plans to undertake a pilot program to check on aliens seeking jobs. If widely used, it could help American employers determine whether job applicants who are not citizens are legal or illegal aliens, by checking on whether their social security cards are legitimate. In the test program employers in Texas will be able to ask the Social Security Administration by telephone whether the name and number on a social security card matches those on file.

Under terms of the immigration law approved by Congress this year, employers under penalty of law cannot knowingly hire illegal aliens. Recently Ms. Hardy's agency has been distributing to new applicants social security cards on special paper that makes them difficult to counterfeit. The agency hands out some 12 million new cards every year.

In a meeting with a small group of reporters Hardy said that the 22,000 new IBM computer terminals now being delivered to the Social Security Administration will provide ``a real opportunity to improve service,'' and to increase employee productivity. Some employees have already undergone training, she says, adding that the entire computer system should be operating in 1 to 2 years. The aim of the computer system is to permit the Social Security Administration to speed up its service while cutting its labor force and costs.

Reports surface from time to time of delays that individuals have faced when they sought help from the Social Security Administration. But officials say service, on balance, has been improving. For instance, new cards are generally issued in 10 or 11 days instead of six weeks, as during the early 1980s, and emergency payments for lost checks are made to social security recipients in four or five days, instead of 10 or 12.

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