Social Security Administration:

Technical and Performance Challenges Threaten Progress of Modernization

AIMD-98-136: Published: Jun 19, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 1998.

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Joel C. Willemssen
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) ongoing efforts to implement its intelligent workstation/local area network (IWS/LAN) project, focusing on: (1) determining the status of SSA's implementation of IWS/LAN; (2) assessing whether SSA and state disability determination service (DDS) operations have been disrupted by the installations of IWS/LAN equipment; and (3) assessing SSA's practices for managing its investment in IWS/LAN.

GAO noted that: (1) SSA has moved aggressively in installing intelligent workstations and LANs since initiating IWS/LAN acquisitions in December 1996; (2) as of mid-March 1998, it had completed the installation of about 31,000 workstations and 850 LANs, generally meeting its implementation schedule for phase I of the initiative; (3) the contractor that is installing IWS/LAN has expressed concerns about the future availability of the intelligent workstations that SSA is acquiring; (4) problems encountered in developing software intended to operate on IWS/LAN could affect SSA's planned schedule for proceeding with phase II of this initiative; (5) staff in SSA offices generally reported no significant disruptions in their ability to serve the public during the installation and operation of their IWS/LAN equipment; (6) some state DDSs reported that SSA's decision to manage and control DDS networks remotely and the IWS/LAN contractor's inadequate responses to DDS' service calls have led to disruptions in some of their operations; (7) because IWS/LAN is expected to correct year 2000 deficiencies in some states' hardware, delaying the installation of IWS/LAN could affect states' progress in becoming year 2000 compliant; (8) consistent with the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and Office of Management and Budget guidance, SSA has followed some of the essential practices required to effectively manage its IWS/LAN investment; (9) SSA has not established essential practices for measuring IWS/LAN's contribution to improving the agency's mission performance; (10) although the agency has developed baseline data and performance measures that could be used to assess the project's impact on mission performance, it has not defined target performance goals or instituted a process for using the measures to assess the impact of IWS/LAN on mission performance; (11) SSA does not plan to conduct a post-implementation review of IWS/LAN once it is fully implemented; and (12) without targeted goals and a defined process for measuring performance both during and after the implementation of IWS/LAN, SSA cannot be assured of the extent to which this project is improving service to the public or that it is actually yielding the savings anticipated from this investment.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA determined that the 100-MHz workstations specified in the IWS/LAN contract were not a limiting factor for applications under development. It believed that terms and conditions in the contract would enable it to acquire higher-powered computers if needed. However, SSA revised its workstation requirements, resulting in the acquisition of additional workstations to meet SSA's and the state DDSs' needs, and higher-powered workstations due to the unavailability of the 100-MHz workstations. In addition, systems officials concluded that additional intelligent workstations and LANs were still required to complete the rollout. In response, the CIO requested that agency components determine the reasons for the additional workstations and identify the benefits expected to be achieved from them. In June 2000, SSA issued a draft report documenting the results of its post-implementation analysis of IWS/LAN. The report detailed the agency's analysis of IWS/LAN's actual benefits and discussed anticipated benefits through 2002. Although the report did not address specific reasons for acquiring additional workstations, the CIO considers the post-evaluation analysis to have fulfilled his aforementioned request.

    Recommendation: To strengthen SSA's management of its IWS/LAN investment, the Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner for Systems to immediately assess the adequacy of workstations specified in the IWS/LAN contract, and based on this assessment, determine: (1) the number and capacity of workstations required to support the IWS/LAN initiative; and (2) its impact on the IWS/LAN implementation schedule.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA continues to work with the DDSs to identify and resolve IWS/LAN network management concerns at DDS offices. For example, SSA previously proposed an alternative capability to provide DDSs with increased network control. However, since July 1998, SSA has only provided this alternative to one DDS, and the agency has not yet resolved other network control and management issues throughout the DDS community. Regarding the Year 2000, SSA has reported that all DDSs have now installed the hardware necessary for ensuring compliance.

    Recommendation: To strengthen SSA's management of its IWS/LAN investment, the Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner for Systems to work closely with state DDSs to promptly identify and resolve network management concerns and establish a strategy for ensuring the compliance of those states relying on IWS/LAN hardware for year 2000 corrections.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA agreed that performance goals and measures should be prescribed to determine how well information technology investments support its programs and provide expected results. However, in July 1999, GAO testified and SSA agreed that the agency had not performed in-process or post-implementation reviews of IWS/LAN and had not measured or identified IWS/LAN's actual contributions to improved productivity and mission performance. In response, SSA conducted a post-evaluation analysis of its IWS/LAN initiative. SSA issued the draft report documenting the results of its evaluation in June 2000, and in September 2000, committed to finalize the report to implement lessons learned from its evaluation and from GAO's subsequent assessment of the draft report. For example, consistent with GAO's report message and recommendation, SSA agreed to improve its management of future information technology (IT) investments by institutionalizing post-implementation reviews and establishing baseline data, target goals, and performance measures to gauge the impact of its IT initiatives.

    Recommendation: To strengthen SSA's management of its IWS/LAN investment, the Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner for Systems to establish a formal oversight process for measuring the actual performance of each phase of IWS/LAN, including identifying the impact that each IWS/LAN phase has on mission performance and conducting post-implementation reviews of the IWS/LAN project once it is fully implemented.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration


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