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Highlights: Hearing on Modernizing Social Security’s Information Technology Infrastructure

2016 July 15
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by Steve Perrigo

Overview from yesterday’s hearing by the House Ways and Means’ Social Security Subcommittee

Social Security is asking for multiyear funding of $300 million spread over four years to redo its entire IT system. Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) led the hearing, stating the agency has new hardware, new computers and new data centers, but its software is out of date. In addition, he said, the agency relies on outdated computer code, spending time and resources training workers in ancient computer languages like COBOL and rehiring retirees to update its programs because they are the only ones who know how. As SSA staff retires, the agency is in a race to modernize these legacy systems before knowledge of these old applications and the knowledge of the legacy infrastructure they are built upon is gone.

It currently takes Social Security employees longer than it should to do a simple task. “That’s time that can’t be spent helping another claimant, processing earnings information of [a] Disability Insurance beneficiary, or answering the phone,” Johnson said.

“We will hear today Social Security’s employees lose 20 minutes each day due to technology problems. With an agency as large as Social Security, this adds up quickly. This wasted time costs Social Security nearly $200 million each year.”

The request for $300 million comes after the agency has already spent 8 years and $300 million trying to develop a Disability Case Processing System (DCPS) that has been described as a failed approach.

The consensus of committee members and witnesses was that something needs to be done to improve SSA’s (IT) infrastructure, but it must be done with a solid plan in place, a system of accountability, and proper oversight. This is required, members said, in order to avoid another waste of taxpayer money and loss of confidence in the agency’s ability to address its own technology needs.

Robert Klopp, Deputy Commissioner, Chief Information Officer, Social Security Administration, expressed full confidence in the recently developed plan and cost model that the SSA has developed, and said the agile development approach will help Congress monitor progress. Klopp said he expects them to watch them like hawks and pointed out that the current plan was developed with and involves SSA’s own IT department, whereas the failed DCPS initiative was led by government contractors overseen by SSA’s business administrators, and did not involve SSA’s IT personnel.

 Testimony highlights

Robert Klopp
Deputy Commissioner, Chief Information Officer, Social Security Administration

  • Over 25 million customers have created accounts on my Social Security since 2012.
  • In FY 2015, customers continued to increase their use of SSA’s online services, completing more than 87 million transactions via SSA’s website.
  • In FY 2015, more than half of all Social Security retirement and disability applications were submitted online, including 75 percent of Medicare applications.

 

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