Social Security Administration:

Risks Associated With Information Technology Investment Continue

AIMD-94-143: Published: Sep 19, 1994. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) efforts to implement intelligent workstations and local area networks (IWS/LAN).

GAO found that: (1) future SSA ability to serve its recipient base will depend on whether it is able to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its work processes; (2) although SSA has begun to acquire new information technology, reengineer its disability determination process, and develop business and service delivery plans, its IWS/LAN system implementation continues to operate with unnecessary risk because these efforts are not being carried out in proper sequence; (3) SSA planning and reengineering efforts are not sufficient to identify new SSA information technology requirements; (4) SSA may be incurring unnecessary risks by constructing a network of over 90,000 personal computers because it has not justified its short- or long-term requirements for these computers or established measurable cost and performance goals; (5) without linking its new technology acquisition to its evolving requirements, SSA may spend up to $10 billion on technology solutions that may not support operational needs or substantially improve public service; and (6) SSA and its oversight authorities are not able to ensure that planned systems and other resources are helping SSA staff process future workloads and deliver improved service to the public because SSA has not defined its technology needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has initiated a large-scale reengineering of its inefficient disability determination process, and is focusing its planned IWS/LAN system on supporting this reengineering, in order to help SSA better handle increasing workloads and backlogs. In 1995, SSA developed an agency business plan to better define and guide its automation and reengineering efforts, and it will update the plan for its next budget request to Congress in early 1996. SSA decided not to delay IWS/LAN implementation. In August 1995, SSA finalized the number of PCs required to meet user needs.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should better define IWS/LAN requirements by linking the agency's planning and reengineering efforts to its automation initiatives, including accelerating planning and reengineering efforts, and if necessary, delaying the installation of IWS/LAN until these efforts are far enough along to substantiate the number, location, and capabilities of personal computers required to support business and service delivery needs.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA initiated pilot tests in August 1997 to assess the ability of IWS/LAN to support reengineered processes. These tests were to enable SSA to assess actual performance, costs, and benefits of SSA's Reengineered Disability System (RDS), and identify supporting IWS/LAN Phase II equipment needs. However, SSA encountered performance problems during its RDS pilot tests, and in July 1999 terminated the RDS pilot and did not proceed with acquiring IWS/LAN Phase II equipment. SSA is now embarking on a new strategy to address its disability determination needs.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should better define IWS/LAN requirements by linking the agency's planning and reengineering efforts to its automation initiatives, including implementing fully functioning pilots to assess the ability of IWS/LAN to support reengineered processes (e.g., whether IWS/LAN provide expected time savings, improve case processing including the electronic transfer of files, and operate smoothly with the planned remote monitoring of field office systems) at locations offering the most potential benefits.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA initiated steps to work with state officials in determining systems requirements to support the reengineered disability process. In addition, according to the President for the National Council of Disability Determination Directors and the Chairperson of the DDS Infrastructure Committee, SSA has worked closely with DDSs on IWS/LAN and RDS issues. For example, SSA began providing DDSs with faster workstations to better meet the states requirements. However, SSA terminated the RDS pilot in July 1999, after a contractor reported that full implementation of RDS is not feasible and that the RDS pilot in its current state is acceptable only as demonstration software. Although the state DDSs were involved in the contractor's assessment of RDS, they have not been actively involved in SSA's new strategy for addressing the needs of the disability claims process. SSA must continue working with state DDSs in assessing systems requirements to ensure that they support SSA business needs and state requirements.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should better define IWS/LAN requirements by linking the agency's planning and reengineering efforts to its automation initiatives, including working closely with states in reassessing systems requirements for state disability determination services to ensure that they support SSA business and service delivery needs and state requirements.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA is implementing a methodology to guide it in determining key decision points, costs, milestones, and performance measures on major IT initiatives, such as IWS/LAN. However, to date, the agency has not fully implemented this methodology, such as performing in-process or post-implementation reviews to validate IWS/LAN expected benefits, cost and schedule. SSA also initiated pilot tests to assess the ability of IWS/LAN to support reengineered processes. These tests were to enable SSA to assess actual performance, costs, and benefits of RDS and identify IWS/LAN Phase II requirements. However, SSA encountered performance problems during RDS pilot tests, and based on a contractor's assessment discontinued developing RDS. SSA is now embarking on a new strategy to address its disability determination process needs.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Social Security should estimate and annually report the total cost and benefits of process and systems changes. This should include establishing measurable cost and performance goals that will provide SSA and its oversight bodies with adequate information to assess the reasonableness of SSA goals and progress during testing and implementation of IWS/LAN.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

 

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