Information Technology: Demand for the Social Security Administration's Electronic Data Exchanges Is Growing and Presents Future Challenges

GAO-09-126 Published: Dec 04, 2008. Publicly Released: Jan 07, 2009.
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Federal and state agencies, including the Social Security Administration (SSA), routinely share data through electronic exchanges to help increase the efficiency of program operations, reduce program costs, and improve public service. In light of SSA's broad responsibility for carrying out data exchanges, GAO was asked to describe SSA's critical programs that exchange data with other federal and state agencies, as well as the information systems that they rely on; and determine challenges and limitations that SSA may face in effectively using its systems to carry out data exchanges in the future. To accomplish this, GAO reviewed and analyzed relevant agency documentation, held discussions with key agency officials, and reviewed selected exchange programs.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Social Security Administration As part of the agency's initiative to improve its data exchange management practices, the Commissioner of Social Security should establish milestones for completing the initiative's report and acting on its recommendations.
Closed – Implemented
In November 2008, the Commissioner of Social Security concurred with this recommendation and stated that the agency had completed its report on the Electronic Information Exchange Initiative (EIEI) on September 4, 2008. The commissioner also stated that the agency had established milestones for acting on the report's recommendations. However, during our subsequent study of SSA's data exchange environment (310932), SSA officials told us that the agency was recasting the functions and responsibilities of its electronic information exchange and matching programs. Among its chief tasks is to be an assessment of the recommendations contained in the EIEI report to determine their viability in the agency's current and anticipated operating environments. In June 2011, an SSA official stated that the agency had assessed the recommendations of the 2008 EIEI report and concluded that they were obsolete due to factors such as technology and diminishing agency resources. SSA staff has begun the process of mapping out their current electronic information exchange process to determine how efficiencies may be gained in the area.
Social Security Administration As part of the agency's initiative to improve its data exchange management practices, the Commissioner of Social Security should develop and maintain a comprehensive inventory of its data exchanges and the system resources they use.
Closed – Implemented
In September 2013, SSA provided us with information from an expanded data exchange inventory system that contained comprehensive information on the agency's data exchanges, including supporting information systems and workload statistics. For example, the inventory provides data needed to identify the specific systems that support data exchanges, along with particular entities that can be used to ensure effective management of the exchanges. Additionally, the system can be used to generate reports that provide detailed information about the workload for a particular exchange, including the numbers and types of data requests received. By developing a comprehensive inventory of the agency's data exchanges, SSA has an important tool that should help the agency make credible and timely decisions to ensure effective management of its data exchange environment.

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