Social Security Administration:

Subcommittee Questions Concerning Information Technology Challenges Facing the Commissioner

AIMD-98-235R: Published: Jul 10, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the challenges the Social Security Administration (SSA) faces in preparing its information systems for the new century and in implementing technology initiatives such as the Intelligent Workstation/Local Area Network (IWS/LAN), focusing on whether: (1) SSA's information systems will be year 2000 compliant and whether SSA is responding to the issue with a sense of urgency; (2) it is commonplace for government information technology contracts to have a refreshment clause; (3) SSA's 100-megahertz computers will be able to run all of the software that SSA plans to install; (4) SSA will be able to effectively develop the software that will be needed to support its operations into the next century; (5) the concerns of state disability determination services (DDS) agencies about SSA's management and control of IWS/LAN operations are justified; and (6) SSA plans to implement the on-line Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (PEBES) system.

GAO noted that: (1) SSA continues to make good progress in its efforts to become year 2000 compliant, maintaining its position as a leader among federal agencies in addressing this issue; (2) since GAO's report last October, SSA has reported a substantial increase in the number of mission-critical systems that it has renovated, tested, and implemented; and it has taken numerous other actions that demonstrate a sense of urgency and commitment to achieving readiness for the change of century; (3) evidence gathered during GAO's review has shown that including technology refreshment clauses in long-term information technology contracts is common among federal departments and agencies; (4) although SSA did not include a technology refreshment clause for IWS/LAN, the contract does include two other clauses that would allow the agency to replace equipment originally specified in the contract with upgraded technology; (5) SSA has stated that its 100-megahertz workstations meet its current needs; (6) however, it is uncertain whether these workstations will adequately support all of the software that the agency may acquire in the future; (7) administrators and staff in 10 DDS offices that GAO visited expressed concern about the effectiveness of SSA's network management and control over IWS/LAN operations in their offices, and dissatisfaction with the service and technical support received from the contractor following the installation of IWS/LAN, and, in GAO's view, their concerns are valid; (8) there should be significant concern about SSA's ability to effectively develop the software that will be needed to support its operations into the next century; (9) as GAO noted in its January 1998 report, SSA had weaknesses in its existing processes for developing and maintaining software; (10) GAO found that SSA's improvement program lacked specific, quantifiable goals, and meaningful baseline data; (11) given the long-term nature of the software process improvement efforts--SSA is not scheduled to complete implementation of its improved processes until June 2000--the Deputy Commissioner for Systems stated that the agency is not likely to incorporate improved processes in its current development of this software; and (12) according to the Deputy Commissioner for Systems implementation of the on-line PEBES system remains suspended and the agency is continuing to evaluate alternatives for protecting the privacy and security of sensitive information that would be transmitted via the Internet.

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