Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program: Performance Measurement Would Strengthen Accountability and Enhance Awareness among Potential Claimants

Source: United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-10-5, October 29, 2009

In 1976, Congress established the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program, which is administered by the Department of Justice (Justice) and provides lump-sum payments to eligible public safety officers and their survivors after a line-of-duty death or permanent and total disability. The program also provides educational benefits to an eligible officer’s spouse and children. GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent to which claimants receive PSOB program benefits and how long the claims process takes, (2) any issues raised by state and local agencies and others who assist claimants in seeking benefits, and (3) the extent to which the PSOB program follows recognized government standards and guidelines for effective program management. To address these objectives, we reviewed PSOB claims that were opened during fiscal years 2006 to 2008 for all three types of claims, reviewed relevant agency documents, and interviewed PSOB program officials, representatives of advocacy organizations, and state and local officials in five selected states. GAO found that all education claims and over three-quarters of death claims opened in fiscal years 2006 through 2008 were closed and approved as of April 2009, while only about 31 percent of disability claims initiated during that period had determinations. The majority of disability claims remained pending because they took significantly longer to process than other claims–while education and death claims were generally processed in under a year, disability claims took between 17 and 26 months. State and local officials GAO interviewed were generally concerned about their lack of awareness of certain PSOB program benefits, challenges with establishing eligibility, and the perceived long wait time for benefits. Specifically, officials were generally more aware of death than disability and education benefits.

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