Social Security Administration:

Information Technology Challenges Facing the Commissioner

T-AIMD-98-109: Published: Mar 12, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1998.

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Joel C. Willemssen
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the information technology challenges facing the Social Security Administration and its recently appointed commissioner.

GAO noted that: (1) SSA made significant early progress in assessing and renovating mission-critical mainframe systems--those necessary to prevent the disruption of benefits--and has been a leader among federal agencies; (2) yet as GAO's report of last October indicated, three key risks remained, mainly stemming from the large degree to which SSA interfaces with other entities in the sharing of information; (3) one major risk concerned year 2000 compliance of the 54 state Disability Determination Services (DDS) that provide vital support to the agency in administering SSA's disability programs; (4) the second major risk concerned data exchanges, ensuring that information obtained from outside sources--such as other federal agencies, state agencies, and private businesses--was not corrupted by data being passed from systems that were not year 2000 compliant; (5) SSA exchanges data with thousands of such sources; (6) third, such risks were compounded by the lack of contingency plans to ensure business continuity in the event of systems failure; (7) the resources that SSA plans to invest in acquiring Intelligent Workstation/Local Area Network (IWS/LAN) are enormous; (8) over 7 years the agency plans to spend about $1 billion during phase I to replace its present computer terminals with intelligent workstations and local area networks; (9) as of March 1, SSA had completed installation of about 30,000 IWSs and 800 LANs, generally meeting or exceeding its phase I schedule; (10) GAO has not identified any significant problems in SSA's installation of IWS/LAN equipment at its field offices to date, and the agency has taken steps to minimize adverse impact on service to the public while installation takes place; (11) at the conclusion of GAO's review, however, SSA had not established targeted goals or a process or using performance measures to asses IWS/LAN's impact in agency productivity improvements; (12) SSA has recognized weaknesses in its own capability to develop software, and is improving its processes and methods; and (13) SSA plans many initiatives using the Internet to provide electronic service delivery to its clients.

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