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Congressional Hearing On SSA Information Systems Raises Questions

2016 May 31
by Steve Perrigo

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a meeting last week, entitled Social Security Administration: Information Systems Review, which featured several key witnesses including Social Security Administration (SSA) Acting Commissioner, Carolyn Colvin.

Committee members questioned the SSA on its delays and cost overruns associated with the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS) project, which would replace all the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) systems with one unified system. Colvin placed some of the blame for the project’s failure with the previous commissioner. She said about $60 to $70 million of the project’s cost so far has been during her tenure. By its completion, the SSA Office of the Inspector General estimates, the total project cost will reach nearly $ 500 million. In December 2016, the agency plans to test DCPS in three pilot locations.

In terms of juggling agency priorities, Colvin stressed how budget challenges have impacted customer service. Some committee members agreed and noted that the prioritization of information technology, cyber security and fraud detection, have taken valuable budget dollars away from workloads and customer service.

Witnesses also came under fire from several members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who voiced concerns that the federal agency is not doing enough in its role as protector of the personally identifiable information (PII) of hundreds of millions of Americans. According to committee members, the SSA twice failed to detect network penetration tests despite those tests being designed to be detected. They stated auditors gained global access privileges, and accessed PII and other sensitive information. Committee members also said the test results uncovered significant, concerning vulnerabilities in Social Security’s systems. Chairman Chaffetz added that SSA’s IT funding had grown to $1.5 billion from $1.1 billion in 2008, an increase of $400 million.

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