Social Security Administration's Computer Systems Modernization Effort May Not Achieve Planned Objectives

IMTEC-85-16: Published: Sep 30, 1985. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) implementation of the Systems Modernization Plan (SMP).

GAO found that: (1) although SSA had made some progress in implementing the plan, it had not fulfilled the plan's initial objectives to upgrade existing software; (2) improvements in three of the four modernization plan programs increased system capacity, improved response time, and enhanced data access; (3) progress in software engineering was seriously behind schedule; (4) software development standards were incomplete because of inadequate management attention and staff constraints; and (5) important software improvement projects have been delayed or cancelled because software standards were incomplete. GAO also found that: (1) SSA shifted its emphasis to building new systems instead of first developing a proper software environment and improving its existing systems; (2) there was no proper foundation for software redesign projects without a software upgrade in place; (3) the current database architecture concept called for technology beyond the state-of-the-art and ultimately delayed the plan's implementation; (4) there was a lack of effective planning, control, and monitoring of system projects; (5) SSA did not effectively use some contractor products, which contributed to the contract's cost increasing from $6 million to over $22 million; and (6) SSA personnel resources constraints adversely affected the software upgrade activities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA presently has a request for proposals out for integration and management services. GAO is now doing a follow-up report.

    Recommendation: To improve the overall management of the modernization plan, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct SSA to develop an action plan for correcting the management deficiencies that currently exist in the plan's integration efforts. This plan should address ways to more effectively monitor and control activities among the programs within the modernization plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA asserted that it is complying with this recommendation, but it could not provide any specific analyses as evidence. Further, in another GAO report, GAO identified weaknesses in data communications utility procurement, such as not fully considering all functional requirements of the system prior to procuring data communications equipment. GAO is now doing a follow-up report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct SSA to ensure that the task to procure and implement a nationwide communications network is coordinated with system software redesign projects to avoid developing ineffective software for the Data Communications Utility Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA disagreed with this recommendation. It asserted that it completed these actions in 1983. SSA noted that software was not available on the open market at the time of the GAO report; however, it decided to make greater use of commercially available software. GAO is now doing a follow-up report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct SSA to conduct a comprehensive risk analysis of the database architecture concept for the Database Integration Program. This analysis should include: (1) whether the current concept represents a state-of-the-art system; (2) the probability of the concept's success and related time frames for its completion; and (3) the risks associated with accomplishing software system redesign prior to establishing the database architecture.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA expanded its Software Engineering Technology and has a draft out for comment. There is no quality assurance function in place for enforcement of standards and SSA is performing limited documentation on existing software applications. GAO is now doing a follow-up report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct SSA to complete the survival and transition phases contained in the 1982 plan, adhering to the phased approach and sequencing of tasks. Specific attention should be given to establishing the software engineering environment, proceeding with software improvement and redesign tasks by: (1) improving the guidance in its software engineering technology to explain more fully procedures and standards for improving and developing systems; (2) implementing a quality-monitoring mechanism to ensure that the Software Engineering Technology Manual is properly followed; and (3) performing software improvements, including documentation of existing systems to define system requirements. These system requirements should be used to support the software redesign efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA reports to Congress frequently. Each year Congress receives copies of the SMP update, which include detailed strategies and plans to revise SMP. SSA has not completed a risk analysis in response to this recommendation. GAO is now doing a follow-up report.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct SSA to report to Congress on the detailed strategies and plans to the revised systems modernization approaches and the results of the database architecture risk analysis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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