Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Update on the Readiness of the Social Security Administration

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-02-24.

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

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Committee on Ways and Means, House of

For Release on Delivery
Expected at
9 a.m.
                          YEAR 2000 COMPUTING
February 24, 1999         CRISIS

                          Update on the Readiness of
                          the Social Security
                          Statement of Joel C. Willemssen
                          Director, Civil Agencies Information Systems
                          Accounting and Information Management Division

                           Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

                           We appreciate the opportunity to join in today's hearing and share updated
                           information on the readiness of computer systems that support key
                           benefits programs to function reliably in the next century. As you know,
                           successful Year 2000--or Y2K--conversion is critical if programs such as
                           Social Security are to provide accurate services and benefits without
                           interruption. Millions of Americans rely on such monthly payments.

                           In a previous report and testimony, we described the efforts that the Social
                           Security Administration (SSA) was making to ensure that its information
                           systems are Year 2000 compliant.1 This morning I would like to briefly
                           summarize our findings and recommendations from that report, describe
                           actions taken on those recommendations, and provide our perspective on
                           where SSA stands today.

Significant Early          Our previous report and testimony noted that SSA had made significant
                           early progress in its efforts to become Year 2000 compliant. SSA first
Progress Made, But         recognized the potential impact of the Year 2000 problem in 1989 and, in so
Three Key Areas of         doing, was able to launch an early response to this challenge. SSA initiated
                           early awareness activities and made significant progress in assessing and
Risk Identified in SSA’s   renovating mission-critical mainframe software that enables it to provide
Year 2000 Program          Social Security benefits and other assistance to the public. Because of the
                           knowledge and experience gained through its Year 2000 efforts, SSA is now
                           a recognized federal leader in addressing this issue. Among other
                           responsibilities, SSA’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Systems chairs
                           the Chief Information Officers Council’s Committee on the Year 2000 and
                           works with other federal agencies to address Year 2000 issues across

                           While SSA deserves credit for its leadership, our earlier report and
                           testimony pointed out that three key areas of risk nonetheless threatened
                           to disrupt its ability to deliver benefits payments. One major risk
                           concerned Year 2000 compliance of mission-critical systems used by

                           1 Social Security Administration: Significant Progress Made in Year 2000 Effort, But Key Risks Remain
                           (GAO/AIMD-98-6, October 22, 1997) and Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Continuing Risks of Disruption to
                           Social Security, Medicare, and Treasury Programs (GAO/T-AIMD-98-161, May 7, 1998).

                           Page 1                                                                          GAO/T-AIMD-99-90
the 542 state Disability Determination Services (DDS) that provide vital
support to SSA in administering its 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 Year 2000 problem or the level of effort that would be
required to correct it.

A second major risk in SSA’s Year 2000 program concerned the compliance
of its data exchanges with outside sources, such as other federal agencies,
state agencies, and private businesses. In addressing the Year 2000
problem, agencies need assurance that data received from other
organizations are accurate. Even if an agency has made its own systems
Year 2000 compliant, the data in those systems can still be contaminated by
incorrect data entering from external sources. SSA has thousands of data
exchanges with other organizations, including the Department of the
Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, and the states. For example, each
month SSA relies on its data exchange with Treasury’s Financial
Management Service (FMS) to process and disburse 50 million benefits
payments totaling approximately $31 billion. Other exchanges may involve
data reported on individuals’ tax-withholding forms or pertaining to state
wages and unemployment compensation. Unless SSA is able to ensure that
data received are Year 2000 compliant, program benefits and eligibility
computations that are derived from the data provided through these
exchanges may be compromised and SSA’s databases corrupted.

Third, the risks to SSA’s Year 2000 program were compounded by the lack
of contingency plans to ensure business continuity in the event of systems
failure. Business continuity and contingency plans are essential. Without
such plans, agencies will not have well-defined responses and may not have
enough time to develop and test alternatives when unpredicted failures
occur. Federal agencies depend on data provided by their business
partners as well as on services provided by the public infrastructure. One
weak link anywhere in the chain of critical dependencies can cause major
disruptions to business operations. Given these interdependencies, it is
imperative that contingency plans be developed for all critical core
business processes and supporting systems, regardless of whether these
systems are owned by the agency. At the time of our October 1997 review,

2 Wesent a survey to the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the three territories (Guam, Puerto
Rico, and the Virgin Islands).

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                         SSA officials acknowledged the importance of contingency planning, but
                         had not developed specific plans to address how the agency would
                         continue to support its core business processes if its Year 2000 conversion
                         activities experienced unforeseen disruptions.

                         We recommended that SSA take several specific actions to mitigate the
                         risks to its Year 2000 program. These included (1) strengthening the
                         monitoring and oversight of state DDS Year 2000 activities,
                         (2) expeditiously completing the assessment of mission-critical systems at
                         DDS offices and using those results to establish specific plans of action,
                         (3) discussing the status of DDS Year 2000 activities in SSA’s quarterly
                         reports to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), (4) quickly
                         completing SSA’s Year 2000 compliance coordination with all data
                         exchange partners, and (5) developing specific contingency plans that
                         articulate clear strategies for ensuring the continuity of core business

Actions Being Taken to   At the request of this Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security and the
                         Senate Special Committee on Aging, we are currently monitoring SSA’s
Mitigate Year 2000       implementation of our recommendations and additional actions it is taking
Risks                    to achieve Year 2000 compliance. SSA agreed with all of our earlier
                         recommendations, and efforts to implement them have either been taken
                         or are underway. Testing of systems to ensure Year 2000 compliance is
                         vital, and we are continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of the agency’s
                         efforts in this area.

                         SSA has enhanced its monitoring and oversight of state DDSs by
                         establishing a full-time DDS project team, designating project managers
                         and coordinators, and requesting biweekly status reports. The agency also
                         obtained from each DDS a plan identifying the specific milestones,
                         resources, and schedules for completing Year 2000 conversion tasks.
                         Further, in accordance with our recommendation, SSA in November 1997
                         began including information on the status of DDS Year 2000 compliance
                         activities in its quarterly reports to OMB. SSA reported in its most recent
                         quarterly report (February 1999) that all automated DDS systems had been
                         renovated, tested, implemented, and certified Year 2000 compliant as of
                         January 31, 1999.

                          In another critical area, data exchanges, SSA has identified its external
                         exchanges and has coordinated with all its partners about the schedule and
                         format for making them Year 2000 compliant. As of January 31, 1999, SSA

                         Page 3                                                      GAO/T-AIMD-99-90
reported that 98 percent of all of its external data exchanges had been
made compliant and implemented, and that it was either in the process of
testing those exchanges that remained noncompliant or was waiting for its
partners to make the exchanges compliant.

Among SSA’s most critical data exchanges are those with FMS and the
Federal Reserve 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 recently reported that the joint testing of check payment
files and the end-to-end testing from SSA, through FMS and the Federal
Reserve for direct deposit payments, had been successfully completed.
Further, SSA stated that it began generating and issuing Title II and Title
XVI benefits payments using the Year 2000 compliant software at SSA and
FMS in October 1998.

Turning to contingency planning, SSA has instituted a number of key
elements, in accordance with our business continuity and contingency
planning guidance.3 It initially developed an overall framework for
business continuity that presented an effective high-level strategy for
mitigating risks associated with the Year 2000. For example, the plan
identified SSA’s core business functions that must be supported if Year 2000
conversion activities experience unforeseen disruptions; potential risks to
business processes and ways to mitigate those risks; and milestones, target
dates, and responsible components for developing local contingency plans
and procedures for SSA’s operating components.

SSA is now in the process of developing local contingency plans to support
its core business operations. It has also received contingency plans for all
state DDSs. Among the plans that SSA reports as being completed at this
time is the Benefits Payment Delivery Year 2000 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. SSA is scheduled to complete the development of all of its
contingency plans by April 30, 1999, and to complete the testing of all plans
by June 30 of this year.

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

Page 4                                                                       GAO/T-AIMD-99-90
                         As noted in our guide, another key element of a business continuity and
                         contingency plan is the development of a zero-day or day-one risk
                         reduction strategy, and procedures for the period between late December
                         1999 and early January 2000. SSA has developed such a strategy. Among
                         the features of this strategy is a moratorium on software changes, except
                         for those mandated by law. SSA plans to minimize changes to its systems
                         that have been certified as Year 2000 compliant by not allowing
                         discretionary changes to be made. The moratorium will be in effect for
                         commercial-off-the-shelf and mainframe products between July 1, 1999,
                         and March 31, 2000, and for programmatic applications between
                         September 1, 1999, and March 31, 2000. Such a Year 2000 change
                         management policy will significantly reduce the chance that errors will be
                         introduced into systems that are already compliant.

                         Other aspects of SSA’s day-one strategy are the implementation of (1) an
                         integrated control center, whose purposes include the internal
                         dissemination of critical data and problem management and (2) a timeline
                         that details the hours in which certain events will occur (such as when
                         workloads will be placed in the queue and backup generators started)
                         during the late December and early January rollover period.

                         SSA is also planning to address the personnel issue with respect to the
                         rollover. For example, it plans to obtain a commitment from key staff to be
                         available during the rollover period and establish a Year 2000 leave policy.
                         Such a strategy, developed well in advance of the turn of the century,
                         should help SSA manage the risks associated with the actual rollover and
                         better position it to address disruptions if they occur.

SSA Well-Positioned      Overall, we have seen significant continuing progress in SSA’s efforts to
                         become Year 2000 compliant. The agency reported that, as of January 31,
for the Year 2000, But   1999, it had completed the renovation of all mission-critical systems so
Some Work Remains        targeted, and implemented them in production. The actions that SSA has
                         taken to mitigate risk to its Year 2000 program have demonstrated a sense
                         of urgency and commitment to achieving readiness for the change of
                         century, and will no doubt better position SSA to meet the challenge.
                         Moreover, several of SSA’s actions—such as its implementation of a day-
                         one strategy—constitute a best practice that we believe should be followed

                         It is important to note, however, that SSA still needs to effectively complete
                         certain critical tasks to better ensure the success of its efforts. For

                         Page 5                                                        GAO/T-AIMD-99-90
                   example, SSA must ensure that all of its data exchanges are made
                   compliant and tested. It must also complete the development and testing
                   of contingency plans supporting its core business processes. In addition,
                   where the agency may be required to modify compliant software in
                   accordance with legislative mandates, these modifications will have to be
                   retested and recertified. Our ongoing review of SSA’s Year 2000 actions
                   shows that the agency has established deadlines for completing its
                   remaining tasks, and is actively monitoring its progress.

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

(511722)   Leter   Page 6                                                     GAO/T-AIMD-99-90
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