Social Security Administration: Update on Year 2000 and Other Key Information Technology Initiatives

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-07-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on Social Security, Committee
                          on Ways and Means, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at
10 a.m.
                          SOCIAL SECURITY
July 29, 1999             ADMINISTRATION

                          Update on Year 2000 and
                          Other Key Information
                          Technology Initiatives
                          Statement of Joel C. Willemssen
                          Director, Civil Agencies Information Systems
                          Accounting and Information Management Division

        Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

        We are pleased to be here today to discuss the Social Security
        Administration’s (SSA) progress in implementing key information
        technology initiatives critical to its ability to effectively serve the public.
        Achieving Year 2000 (Y2K) readiness is SSA’s top information technology
        priority. Consistent with our prior reports,1 SSA continues to make
        excellent progress on Y2K and has taken important steps to implement our
        recommendations for mitigating risks. Further, it has initiated a number of
        governmentwide best practices to help ensure its preparedness for the
        change of century. Nonetheless, SSA’s work is not yet complete; certain
        tasks integral to ensuring its overall readiness for the year 2000 must still
        be accomplished.

        Another major focus of SSA’s information technology activities is
        implementation of its Intelligent Workstation/Local Area Network
        (IWS/LAN), which SSA expects will provide the agency with the basic
        automation infrastructure to support redesigned work processes and
        improve its service delivery. SSA continues to implement IWS/LAN and
        reports that it has now installed intelligent workstations and LANs in most
        of the approximately 2,000 SSA and state Disability Determination Service
        (DDS) sites included in the initiative. However, it has not yet implemented
        key processes that are essential to measuring the benefits derived from this

        The third initiative that I will discuss today is SSA’s development of its
        Reengineered Disability System (RDS). RDS was intended to support SSA’s
        modernized disability claims process and was to be the first major
        programmatic software application to operate on IWS/LAN. However, SSA
        experienced numerous problems and delays in developing this software.
        Based on a contractor’s recent assessment of the initiative, SSA has now
        decided to terminate the original RDS strategy after 7 years of effort and
        about $71 million in reported costs. SSA now plans to proceed with a new
        strategy to address the needs of its disability determination process.

          Social Security Administration: Significant Progress Made in Year 2000 Effort, But Key Risks Remain
        (GAO/AIMD-98-6, October 22, 1997); Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Continuing Risks of Disruption to
        Social Security, Medicare, and Treasury Programs (GAO/T-AIMD-98-161, May 7, 1998); and Year 2000
        Computing Crisis: Update on the Readiness of the Social Security Administration (GAO/T-AIMD-99-90,
        February 24,1999).

Leter   Page 1                                                                         GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
Year 2000: Continuing    SSA first recognized the potential impact of the Y2K problem in 1989 and,
                         in so doing, was able to launch an early response to this challenge. SSA
Progress, But Critical   initiated early awareness activities and made significant progress in
Tasks Remain             assessing and renovating mission-critical mainframe software that enables
                         it to provide Social Security benefits and other assistance to the public.
                         Because of the knowledge and experience gained through its Y2K efforts,
                         SSA has been a recognized federal leader in addressing this issue.

                         Despite its accomplishments, however, our 1997 report on SSA’s Y2K
                         program identified, and recommended actions for addressing three key risk

                         • SSA had not ensured Y2K compliance of mission-critical systems used
                           by the 54 state DDSs that provide vital support in administering SSA’s
                           disability programs. Specifically, SSA had not included these DDS
                           systems in its initial assessment of systems that it considered a priority
                           for correction. Without a complete agencywide assessment that
                           included the DDS systems, SSA could not fully evaluate the extent of its
                           Y2K problem or the level of effort that would be required to correct it.
                           We therefore recommended that SSA strengthen its monitoring and
                           oversight of state DDS Y2K activities, expeditiously complete the
                           assessment of mission-critical systems at DDS offices, and discuss the
                           status of DDS Y2K activities in SSA’s quarterly reports to the Office of
                           Management and Budget (OMB).
                         • SSA had not ensured the compliance of its data exchanges with outside
                           sources, such as other federal agencies, state agencies, and private
                           businesses. Unless SSA can ensure that data received from these
                           organizations are Y2K complaint, program benefits and eligibility
                           computations that are derived from the data provided through these
                           exchanges may be compromised and SSA’s databases corrupted.
                           Accordingly, we recommended that SSA quickly complete its Y2K
                           compliance coordination with all data exchange partners.
                         • SSA lacked contingency plans to ensure business continuity in the event
                           of systems failure. Business continuity and contingency plans are
                           essential to ensuring that agencies will have well-defined responses and
                           sufficient time to develop and test alternatives when unpredicted
                           failures occur. At the time of our October 1997 review, SSA officials
                           acknowledged the importance of contingency planning, but had not

                          GAO/AIMD-98-6, October 22, 1997.

             Leter       Page 2                                                     GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
   developed specific plans to address how the agency would continue to
   support its core business processes if its Y2K conversion activities
   experienced unforeseen disruptions. We therefore recommended that
   SSA develop specific contingency plans that articulate clear strategies
   for ensuring the continuity of core business functions.

SSA agreed with all of our recommendations and efforts to implement them
have either been taken or are underway. Regarding state DDSs, SSA
enhanced its monitoring and oversight by establishing a full-time project
team, designating project managers and coordinators, and requesting
biweekly status reports. It also obtained from each DDS a plan identifying
the specific milestones, resources, and schedules for completing Y2K
conversion tasks. In its most recent (May 1999) quarterly report to OMB,
SSA stated that all DDS claims processing software had been renovated,
tested, implemented, and certified Y2K compliant by January 31, 1999.

To address data exchanges, SSA identified all of its external data exchanges
and coordinated with all of its partners on the schedule and format for
making exchanges Y2K compliant. As of June 27, 1999, according to the
agency, over 99 percent of SSA’s 1,954 reported external data exchanges
had been made compliant.

Among SSA’s most critical data exchanges are those with the Department
of the Treasury’s Financial Management Service (FMS) and the Federal
Reserve System for the disbursement of Title II (Old Age, Survivors, and
Disability Insurance program) and Title XVI (Supplemental Security
Income program) benefits checks and direct deposit payments. SSA began
working with FMS in March 1998 to ensure the compliance of these
exchanges, and reported earlier this year that the joint testing of check
payment files and testing from SSA through FMS and the Federal Reserve
for direct deposit payments had been successfully completed. Further, SSA
stated, it began generating and issuing Title II and Title XVI benefits
payments using the Y2K compliant software at SSA and FMS in October

Regarding its contingency planning, SSA has instituted a number of key
elements, in accordance with our business continuity and contingency
planning guidance. 3 In addition to developing its overall strategy for Y2K

  Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Business Continuity and Contingency Planning (GAO/AIMD-10.1.19,
March 1998 [exposure draft], August 1998 [final]).

Page 3                                                                       GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
business continuity, SSA has completed local contingency plans to support
its core business operations and has received contingency plans for all
state DDSs. Also included among its plans is SSA’s Benefits Payment
Delivery Y2K Contingency Plan, developed in conjunction with Treasury
and the Federal Reserve to ensure the continuation of operations
supporting Title II and Title XVI benefits payments.

Another key element of business continuity and contingency planning, as
noted in our guide, is the development of a zero-day or day-one risk
reduction strategy, and procedures for the period from late December 1999
through early January 2000. SSA, as a recognized leader in addressing Y2K
contingency planning issues, has developed such a strategy. For example,
the agency plans for select SSA and DDS sites to process late December
1999 data during the first 2 days of January 2000 as a means of testing the
accuracy of the systems prior to the start of business on Monday, January 3.
Other features of the strategy include implementation of (1) an integrated
control center with responsibility for the internal dissemination of critical
data and problem management, (2) a timeline detailing the hours during
which certain events will occur (such as when workloads will be placed in
the queue and backup generators started) during this rollover period, and
(3) a personnel strategy and leave policy that includes commitments from
key staff to be available during the rollover period. Such a strategy should
help SSA manage the risks associated with the actual rollover and better
position it to address any disruptions that occur.

SSA has taken other vital steps to help ensure its preparedness for the year
2000. For example, it has used a Y2K test facility to test operating systems,
vendor products, and mission-critical systems. SSA’s test and certification
procedures included (1) baseline testing to establish current-year data for
comparison, (2) forward year testing of applications with business and
systems dates set in 2000 and beyond, (3) comparisons of aged baseline
results with forward year test results, (4) forward date integration testing
of entire business functions (i.e., all interrelated applications), and
(5) independent reviews of test outputs to certify Y2K compliance.

To ensure the delivery of benefits payments, SSA worked jointly with FMS
and the Federal Reserve to test the transfer of approximately
7,500 electronic payments from Treasury to the Richmond, Virginia,
Federal Reserve Board through the Automated Clearing House network.
SSA reported that it began generating and issuing Title II and Title XVI
benefits payments using the compliant software at SSA and FMS in October

Page 4                                                      GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
SSA Implemented a Y2K   To further reduce the risk of disruptions, in the fall of 1998 SSA instituted a
Change Management       Y2K change management process. We previously testified that this effort
                        represented a best practice governmentwide that should be adopted by
Process                 other agencies.4 SSA’s process consists of three key components: (1) a
                        quality assurance process, (2) Y2K system recertifications, and (3) a
                        moratorium on discretionary software modifications.

                        A key feature of SSA’s quality assurance process is its use of a validation
                        tool to assess the quality of its previously renovated mission-critical
                        applications. SSA began piloting the tool in November 1998 and expanded
                        its use full-scale in December. The tool searches application programs to
                        identify any date field or date logic that may fail as a result of any
                        inadvertent modifications.

                        The second key component of SSA’s change management process involves
                        its plans to recertify previously renovated applications where date errors
                        had been identified and Y2K compliant software was then modified. The
                        recertification process includes performing forward date testing of the
                        modified software and reevaluating the software using the quality
                        assurance validation tool. In addition, business function experts perform
                        independent reviews of all test outputs before recertifying the software’s

                        Also, SSA plans to enforce a moratorium on discretionary software
                        changes from September 1, 1999 through March 31, 2000. This moratorium
                        is intended to help mitigate the risks associated with changing its certified
                        systems by reducing the number of software modifications made. In those
                        instances in which software changes are necessary—such as when
                        compliant software must be modified due to legal or other agency
                        requirements—SSA plans to recertify the software’s compliance. Examples
                        of software that will be modified include applications impacted by Title II
                        benefits rate increases and Title XVI cost-of-living adjustments that are to
                        take effect in November, and certain cyclical software modifications that
                        are to occur after September.

                        Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Readiness Improving, But Much Work Remains to Avoid Major
                        Disruptions (GAO/T-AIMD-99-50, January 20, 1999).

                        Page 5                                                                   GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
SSA Still Needs to Complete   While SSA has been a Y2K leader, it must still complete several critical
Critical Tasks to Ensure      tasks to ensure its readiness for the year 2000. These tasks include
Year 2000 Readiness           • ensuring the compliance of all external data exchanges,
                              • completing tasks outlined in its contingency plans,
                              • certifying the compliance of one remaining mission-critical system,
                              • completing hardware and software upgrades in the Office of
                                Telecommunications and Systems Operations, and
                              • correcting date field errors identified through the quality assurance

                              SSA reported as of mid-July that six of its external data exchanges were
                              still in the process of being made Y2K compliant. In each instance, these
                              include files that have been addressed by SSA but which need further
                              action on the part of SSA’s business partners to achieve Y2K compliance.
                              For example, SSA transmits one file on cost-of-living adjustments to the
                              Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While SSA has made the file
                              compliant, VA must still complete its testing in order to receive the file in a
                              Y2K compliant format. VA is scheduled to complete its testing in August.
                              In addition, SSA is waiting to verify the successful transmission of three
                              compliant files from Treasury regarding information on tax refund actions.
                              SSA expects to verify the compliance of the Treasury files during the first
                              week of August. SSA also still needs to verify the successful transmission
                              of two Massachusetts death data files. SSA expects to complete this
                              activity by the end of this week.

                              Completing tasks in its contingency plans and coordinating with its own
                              staff and its business partners to ensure the timely functioning of its core
                              business operations is likewise critical. This includes coordinating with its
                              benefit delivery partners on contingency actions for ensuring timely
                              benefits payments. For example, SSA plans to assist Treasury in
                              developing alternative disbursement processes for problematic financial
                              institutions. SSA is also now in the process of testing all of its contingency
                              plans, with expected completion in September. In addition, SSA must
                              implement its day-one strategy, consisting of actions to be executed during
                              the last days of 1999 and the first few days of 2000.

                              SSA also has one remaining mission-critical stand-alone system—the
                              Integrated Image-Based Data Capture System—which must still be
                              certified as Y2K compliant. This system is used to scan and convert W-2
                              forms to electronic format for entry into the Annual Wage Reporting
                              System. According to officials in SSA’s Office of Systems, the

                              Page 6                                                       GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
                         SSA-developed application software has been renovated, tested, and
                         implemented into production; however, SSA cannot certify the system’s
                         compliance until it has completed testing of the system’s upgraded
                         commercial off-the-shelf software used for tracking W-2 form data from the
                         point of receipt to image scanning. This testing is not scheduled to
                         conclude until late August.

                         The installation of software and hardware upgrades inSSA’s Office of
                         Telecommunications and Systems Operations must also be completed. For
                         example, SSA must install Internet browser patches for the IWS/LAN
                         software by August.

                         Finally, SSA must correct a number of date-field errors recently identified
                         using its QA tool. SSA reported that as of July 23, 1999, it had assessed
                         92 percent (283 of 308) of its mission-critical applications (having a total of
                         about 40 million lines of code),5 and that it had identified 1,565 date field
                         errors. SSA is in the process of correcting these identified date problems.
                         As of mid-July, it reported that 44 of the 283 applications had been
                         corrected, recertified, and returned to production. SSA plans to correct,
                         recertify, and implement all of its remaining applications by November,
                         when it is scheduled to modify some mission-critical applications to reflect
                         Title II benefit rate increases and Title XVI cost-of-living adjustments.

IWS/LAN: Installations   The second major information technology initiative that I will discuss today
                         is SSA’s IWS/LAN modernization effort. SSA expects IWS/LAN to play a
Continue But             critical role by providing the basic automation infrastructure to support
Contributions to         redesigned work processes and to improve the availability and timeliness
                         of information. Under this initiative, SSA planned to replace approximately
Improved Mission         40,000 “dumb” terminals6 and other computer equipment used at about
Performance Remain       2,000 SSA and state DDS sites with an infrastructure consisting of networks
Unclear                  of intelligent workstations connected to each other and toSSA’s mainframe

                          Thirteen applications were not tested because they are no longer in use (e.g., obsolete, retired,
                         replaced), 10 because they were incompatible with the QA tool, and 1 because it was no longer part of
                         SSA’s inventory. One application remained to be tested.
                          SSA’s “dumb” terminals are connected to its mainframe computers through its data network and are
                         controlled by software executed on the mainframes.

                         Page 7                                                                         GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
The resources that SSA plans to invest in acquiring IWS/LAN are enormous.
The first phase of the planned project that started in 1996, was to be a
7-year, approximately $1 billion effort to acquire, install, and maintain
56,500 intelligent workstations and 1,742 local area networks,
2,567 notebook computers, systems furniture, and other peripheral

The basic intelligent workstation that SSA planned to procure included a
100-megahertz Pentium personal computer with 32 megabytes of random
access memory and a 1.2-gigabyte hard (fixed) disk drive. We reported in
1998,8 however, that the IWS/LAN contractor—Unisys Corporation—had
raised concerns about the availability of the intelligent workstations being
acquired, noting that the 100-megahertz workstations specified in the
contract were increasingly difficult to obtain. At that time, SSA’s Deputy
Commissioner for Systems did not believe it was necessary to upgrade to a
faster processor because the 100-megahertz workstation met the agency’s

Over the past year, SSA has continued its aggressive implementation of
IWS/LAN. The agency reported, as of mid-July 1999, that it had completed
the installation of 70,518 workstations and 1,742 LANs at 1,565 SSA sites
and 177 DDS sites. As the agency has proceeded with the initiative,
however, it has revised its requirements several times based on the need for
additional workstations. Specifically, from June 1998 through April 1999,
SSA modified its contract with the Unisys Corporation three times to
purchase additional workstations and related hardware. These
modifications increased from 56,500 to 70,624, the total number of
intelligent workstations acquired under the Unisys contract.9 In addition,
because Unisys faced difficulty in obtaining the 100-megahertz
workstations specified in the initial contract, the additional workstations
acquired through the modifications were configured with processor speeds
ranging from 266 megahertz to 350 megahertz.

 The national IWS/LAN initiative consisted of two phases. During phase I, SSA planned to acquire
workstations, LANs, notebook computers, systems furniture, and other peripheral devices as the basic,
standardized infrastructure to which additional applications and functionality can later be added.
Phase II was intended to build upon the IWS/LAN infrastructure provided through the phase I effort.
Social Security Administration: Technical and Performance Challenges Threaten Progress of
Modernization (GAO/AIMD-98-136, June 19, 1998).
 SSA also used another procurement vehicle to procure 1,767 additional workstations that are also part
of the IWS/LAN architecture.

Page 8                                                                         GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
According to SSA officials overseeing the initiative, SSA’s initial estimates
of its IWS/LAN requirements had not fully considered the needs of all SSA
and state DDS sites. As a result, additional workstations were necessary to
(1) ensure Y2K hardware compliance at all DDS sites, (2) complete
installations in some of SSA’s larger sites, and (3) support training needs.
SSA reported that the contract modifications cost about $32 million and
that it had completed the installations of all but 106 workstations acquired
via the modifications by July 11, 1999.10

Beyond these modifications, however, SSA has continued to increase its
requirements and is currently in the process of acquiring additional
workstations to support the national IWS/LAN initiative. In particular,
SSA’s Office of Systems concluded during fiscal year 1999 that the
workstations acquired via the Unisys contract and its subsequent
modifications were not sufficient to fulfill the IWS/LAN requirements of all
SSA and DDS sites. As a result, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), in
November 1998, approved a request for a $45 million, 5-year follow-on
contract to acquire, install, and maintain at least 6,900 additional
workstations and about 275 additional LANs.

According to a Systems official, the intelligent workstation that SSA has
specified for the follow-on contract is, at a minimum, a 333-megahertz
Pentium II processor with 64 megabytes of random access memory and a
4-gigabyte hard (fixed) disk drive. SSA is currently evaluating vendors’
proposals and expects to award the contract by the end of July.

Although the CIO approved the Unisys contract modifications and the
follow-on contract, SSA’s Deputy Commissioner for Finance, Assessment
and Management had previously expressed concerns about SSA’s need for
the additional workstations and their expected benefits. In particular, in
letters to the CIO in November 1998 and April 1999, the Deputy
Commissioner recommended that the CIO approve the additional
workstations from Unisys and the follow-on contract award on the
condition that SSA would, respectively, (1) reassess the total number of
work year savings for IWS/LAN and (2) reconcile the number of
workstations against staffing levels. The CIO agreed to these conditions
and requested that relevant agency components determine the reasons for
the additional workstations and identify the benefits expected to be

 According to SSA, the remaining workstations are to be installed by October 1999.

Page 9                                                                        GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
                           achieved from them. Although this effort has been ongoing for about
                           8 months, as of July 22, the study had not been finalized.

IWS/LAN’s Actual           Last June, we expressed concern that SSA lacked target goals and a defined
Contribution to Improved   process for measuring IWS/LAN performance—essential to determining
                           whether its investment in IWS/LAN was yielding expected improvements in
Productivity and Mission   service to the public.11 According to the Clinger-Cohen Act and OMB
Performance Remains        guidance, effective technology investment decision-making requires that
Unclear                    processes be implemented and data collected to ensure that (1) project
                           proposals are funded on the basis of management evaluations of costs,
                           risks, and expected benefits to mission performance and (2) once funded,
                           projects are controlled by examining costs, the development schedule, and
                           actual versus expected results. We therefore recommended that SSA
                           establish a formal oversight process for measuring the actual performance
                           of IWS/LAN, including identifying the impact that each phase of this
                           initiative has on mission performance and conducting postimplementation
                           reviews of the project.

                           Although SSA agreed with the need for performance goals and measures,
                           its Information Technology Systems Review Staff had neither completed
                           nor established plans for performing in-process reviews of IWS/LAN to
                           (1) compare the estimated cost levels to actual cost data, (2) compare the
                           estimated and actual schedules, (3) compare expected and actual benefits
                           realized, and (4) assess risks. In addition, while the Clinger-Cohen Act and
                           OMB guidelines call for postimplementation evaluations to determine the
                           actual project cost, benefits, risks, and returns, SSA has not scheduled a
                           postimplementation review to validate the IWS/LAN phase I projected
                           savings and to apply lessons learned to make other information technology
                           investment decisions. According to the Director of the Information
                           Technology Systems Review Staff, the agency has no plans to perform
                           either in-process or postimplementation reviews unless problems are
                           identified that warrant such an effort.

                           As expressed in our earlier report, it is essential that SSA conduct
                           in-process and postimplementation reviews for the IWS/LAN initiative.
                           Since 1994, we have expressed concerns regarding SSA’s need to measure

                            GAO/AIMD-98-136, June 19, 1998.

                           Page 10                                                    GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
                            the actual benefits achieved from its implementation.12 Moreover, as the
                            agency continues to expand IWS/LAN via its follow-on workstation
                            acquisitions, it is critical for the agency to know how well it has achieved
                            the savings projected in its initial assessments supporting this initiative.
                            Without such reviews, the agency will be unable to make informed
                            decisions concerning (1) whether it should continue, modify, or terminate
                            its investment in a particular initiative or (2) how it can improve and refine
                            its information technology investment decision-making process.

SSA Will Need to Continue   Our 1998 report also noted concerns among state DDSs about the loss of
to Address DDS Network      network management and control over IWS/LAN operations in their offices
                            and dissatisfaction with the service and technical support received from
Management Concerns         the IWS/LAN contractor.13 Accordingly, we recommended that SSA work
                            closely with the DDSs to identify and resolve the network management

                            SSA has worked with the DDSs to address these issues. For example, it is
                            providing additional servers to give the DDSs certain administrative rights
                            capabilities, such as access to specific login scripts and full control over
                            DDS applications. SSA has also worked with the DDSs to streamline the
                            maintenance process and establish agreements that would allow the DDSs
                            to perform their own IWS/LAN maintenance. Under such agreements,
                            according to SSA, states could rely on their in-house technical staff—rather
                            than the services of the IWS/LAN contractor, Unisys Corporation—to
                            address maintenance problems. At the conclusion of our review, SSA had
                            entered into a maintenance agreement with one state DDS—Wisconsin—
                            and was considering the requests of four other DDSs.

                            Other issues also continue to concern the DDSs. For example,
                            representatives of the National Council of Disability Determination
                            Directors, which represents the state DDSs, stated that they remain
                            concerned about SSA’s attempts to implement a standard print solution. In
                            addition, they stated that SSA has not ensured that the workstations
                            implemented adhere to a standard configuration that provides all DDS
                            system administrators with the same rights. SSA has acknowledged these
                            issues and plans to work with the states to address them.

                              Social Security Administration: Risks Associated With Information Technology Investment Continue
                            (GAO/AIMD-94-143, September 19, 1994).
                             GAO/AIMD-98-136, June 19, 1998.

                            Page 11                                                                      GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
RDS: Development         SSA’s work toward developing RDS has been ongoing for many years. The
                         initiative began in 1992 as the Modernized Disability System and was
Problems Have Led        redesignated as RDS in 1994 to coincide with the agency’s efforts to
SSA to Discontinue the   reengineer the disability claims process. As shown in figure 1, SSA had
                         planned to implement the RDS software starting November 1996 and to
Initiative               complete the national rollout by May 2001.

                         Figure 1: Planned RDS Rollout Schedule
                                                                                                Implement Release 4
                                                                                                and complete
                                                                                                national rollout

                                                                              Implement Release 3

                                                                Implement Release 2

                                                   Implement Release 1.1

                                         Implement Release 1

                         1996           1997          1998          1999          2000         2001          2002

                         Source: SSA.

                         When completed, RDS was to be the first major programmatic software
                         application to operate on SSA’s IWS/LAN infrastructure and be part of the
                         enabling platform for SSA’s modernized disability claims process.
                         Specifically, RDS was to automate the Title II and Title XVI disability claims
                         processes—from the initial claims-taking in the field office to the gathering
                         and evaluation of medical evidence in the state DDSs, to payment
                         execution in the field office or processing center, and include the handling
                         of appeals in hearing offices. SSA anticipated that this automation would
                         contribute to increased productivity, decreased disability claims processing
                         times, and more consistent and uniform disability decisions. However,

                         Page 12                                                               GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
after approximately 7 years and more than $71 million14 reportedly spent on
the initiative, SSA has not succeeded in developing RDS and no longer
plans to continue the effort.

As figure 2 shows, from 1993 through 1999, SSA took various steps toward
developing the RDS software.

Figure 2: Actual RDS Rollout Schedule
                                                                               Further RDS
                                                                               rollout suspended

                                                              Reintroduced Release 1 Pilot

                                                              Began defining
                                                              Release 2

                                                Piloted, enhanced, and
                                                converted Release 1
                                                to NT Platform

  Developed Release 1 for OS/2 Platform

1993           1994           1995           1996           1997           1998           1999

Source: SSA.

However, even in its earliest stages, this effort proved problematic and was
plagued with delays. For example, in September 1996, we reported that
software development problems had delayed the scheduled
implementation of RDS by more than 2 years.15 An assessment of the
development effort revealed a number of factors as having contributed to
that delay, including (1) using programmers with insufficient experience,
(2) using software development tools that did not perform effectively, and

  The reported costs were for RDS software design and development, pilot tests, and contractor
  Social Security Administration: Effective Leadership Needed to Meet Daunting Challenges
(GAO/HEHS-96-196, September 12, 1996).

Page 13                                                                        GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
(3) establishing initial software development schedules that were too

SSA proceeded with the initiative nonetheless and, in August 1997, began
pilot testing the first release of the RDS software in its Alexandria, Virginia,
field office and the federal DDS16 for the specific purposes of (1) assessing
the performance, cost, and benefits of the software and (2) determining
IWS/LAN phase II equipment requirements. However, as we previously
reported, SSA encountered performance problems during the pilot tests.17
For example, Systems officials stated that, using RDS, the reported
productivity of claims representatives in the SSA field office dropped due
to the system’s slow response time. Specifically, the officials stated that
before the installation of RDS, each field office claims representative
processed approximately five case interviews per day. After RDS was
installed, each claims representative could process only about three cases
per day.

In response to the RDS performance problems, SSA delayed its plans for
expanding the pilot to other offices and, in March 1998, contracted with
Booz-Allen and Hamilton to independently evaluate and recommend
options for proceeding with the initiative. According to the statement of
work, Booz-Allen and Hamilton was tasked to provide SSA with a
comparative cost, benefit, risk, and schedule assessment for RDS, and to
propose alternative strategies for achieving its underlying objectives. The
contractor was originally scheduled to deliver its report to SSA in
September 1998, at which time SSA planned to select an option for
proceeding to achieve objectives intended for the initiative. However, SSA
later extended this milestone, with the draft report being delivered in
February 1999. Systems officials subsequently required the contractor to
address additional comments and concerns put forth by SSA and the DDSs,
resulting in additional delays. SSA provided the report to us on July 26.

According to the Booz-Allen and Hamilton report, the RDS software had
defects that would diminish the current case-processing rate at DDS sites.
In addition, SSA had not been timely in addressing the software defects.
For example, 90 software problems identified by SSA staff remained
unresolved after more than 120 days. As a result, the Booz-Allen and

  The federal DDS provides backup services to state DDSs when the state offices cannot process their
workloads and serves as a model office for testing new technologies and work processes.
 GAO/AIMD-98-136, June 19, 1998.

Page 14                                                                       GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
                            Hamilton report recommended that SSA discontinue the RDS initiative and
                            focus on an alternative solution involving the use of an electronic folder to
                            replace the paper-based case folder in the disability determination process.
                            Further, to reduce development risks, the contractor recommended that
                            the electronic folder project be segmented into manageable sections.

SSA Plans to Launch a New   Based on the assessment it received from Booz-Allen and Hamilton, SSA
Initiative                  has discontinued the development of RDS and has begun to pursue a new
                            strategy for addressing the needs of its disability determination process.
                            According to the RDS project manager, the strategy that SSA is now
                            considering will be multifaceted, incorporating three components: (1) an
                            electronic disability intake process—which will include a subset of the
                            existing RDS software, (2) the existing DDS claims process, and (3) a new
                            system for the Office of Hearings and Appeals. In addition, we were told
                            that the strategy will rely on the use of an electronic folder to transmit data
                            from one processing location to another. The electronic folder is to be a
                            data repository, storing documents that are keyed in, scanned, or faxed,
                            and will essentially replace the current process of moving a paper folder
                            from one location to another and entering data into a separate system. SSA
                            began pilot testing its new strategy on July 26.

                            However, as SSA is beginning to move forward with this new initiative, it
                            needs to take advantage of opportunities to apply improved software
                            development processes. In January 1998, we reported that SSA had begun
                            taking steps to improve its software development capability.18 Significant
                            actions that SSA initiated include (1) launching a formal software process
                            improvement program, (2) acquiring assistance from a nationally
                            recognized research and development center in assessing its strengths and
                            weaknesses and in assisting with improvements,19 and (3) establishing
                            management groups to oversee software process improvement activities.
                            SSA has developed and is currently applying the improved software
                            development processes to 11 projects.

                            Given the failure of RDS, it is imperative that any future software initiatives
                            adhere to the improved processes and methods. Without such linkage, SSA
                            again risks spending millions on a project that will not succeed. On July 27,

                             Social Security Administration: Software Development Process Improvements Started But Work
                            Remains (GAO/AIMD-98-39, January 28, 1998).
                             The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

                            Page 15                                                                        GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
                   SSA officials told us that the new post-RDS initiative will be linked to the
                   agency’s software development improvement efforts.

                   In summary, SSA has encountered mixed success in implementing its key
                   information technology initiatives. The agency has clearly been a leader on
                   Y2K and has demonstrated a commitment to addressing the challenges of
                   the century date change. Further, the agency has worked aggressively to
                   implement IWS/LAN as its basic automation infrastructure. However, the
                   benefits of the IWS/LAN investment remain uncertain because SSA has not
                   yet assessed its actual contribution to improved mission performance. In
                   addition, after years of problems, SSA terminated RDS, which will delay
                   expected improvements in the processing of disability claims. To avoid
                   repeating past mistakes on its future information technology efforts, SSA
                   will need to, at a minimum, apply disciplined information technology
                   investment management practices and adhere to improved software
                   development processes.

                   Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to respond
                   to any questions that you or other members of the Subcommittee may have
                   at this time.

Contact and        For information about this testimony, please contact Joel Willemssen at
                   (202) 512-6253. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony
Acknowledgements   included Michael A. Alexander, Yvette R. Banks, Nabajyoti Barkakati,
                   Kenneth A. Johnson, Valerie C. Melvin, and Sonal Vashi.

(511770)   Leter   Page 16                                                      GAO/T-AIMD-99-259
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