Computer Operations and Data Processing Activities at the Social Security Administration

HRD-77-97: Published: Jun 3, 1977. Publicly Released: Jun 3, 1977.

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The primary responsibility of the Social Security Administration is to make correct and timely benefit payments to individuals entitled to receive various benefits under several Federal programs. The agency processes much of the necessary recordkeeping workload on specially designed electronic data processing systems, mostly located at agency headquarters. A congressionally requested analysis in 1975 indicated that the major causes of the apparent underuse included employee ignorance of computer capabilities, indifference to work, and lack of communication between different shifts which resulted in a slowdown of operations when changing shifts. There was also a lack of workload sharing among the groups assigned to various programs, and the security system was weak. The agency has agreed that the broad question of computer use versus capacity still needs to be answered, and it has taken steps to study the situation and to improve its existing computer operations and security. These steps include hiring a consulting firm to analyze the systems practices and procedures, waiting until the analysis is complete before planning further computer development, hiring a systems expert to improve management and staffing, initiating overlapping shifts for computer operations personnel, adopting new security procedures, and funding a preliminary physical security evaluation.

In responding to the 1974 recommendations and a Presidential directive, the agency established the Advanced Operating Systems Staff, which has the responsibilities of modernizing the agency's approach to data processing and planning, designing, and overseeing implementation of a long-range overall agency process. The master plan developed by this staff has four phases: conceptualization; requirements definition; design and development; and implementation. As of April 1977, Phase 1 had not been completed. Initial cost estimates indicate a total project expenditure for FY 1976 through 1981 will be $364 million in 1975 constant dollars. GAO considered this estimate to be low. Through March 31, 1977, the agency had spent almost $4.5 million on its advanced systems project.

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