Information Technology:

Social Security Needs To Better Plan, Develop, and Implement Its Major ADP Systems Redesign Projects

HRD-81-47: Published: Feb 6, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 6, 1981.

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The efforts by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to redesign its retirement, survivors, disability, and health insurance automated system was reviewed. This redesign represented a major multifaceted automatic data processing system modification project undertaken to improve service to program beneficiaries.

Although substantial effort and resources were invested in this project, it was largely unsuccessful. Only one of the five major new features expected during the redesign was fully implemented successfully, and SSA suspended further efforts to complete the project as it was originally planned. GAO believes that inadequate planning and management of the redesign and deficiencies in the SSA systems modification process were primary reasons that the agency was unable to fully complete the redesign. Further, SSA systems modification efforts in general will not meet their objectives until these weaknesses are corrected. Specifically, SSA did not: (1) adequately involve key field office users in planning redesign changes to ensure that their needs would be met by the modified system; (2) adequately analyze costs and benefits of the redesign; and (3) provide for consistent management of the redesign.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to require revision of Social Security Administration interim validation guidelines to include more detailed procedures and standards covering test case selection and inclusion of invalid data for testing program controls, testing changes throughout the system, determining the degree of processing accuracy that must be attained before implementation may proceed, and allocation of sufficient staff time to validating systems changes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Major modifications in SSA System Modernization Plan practices have been made for validating guidelines, testing changes to the system, determining the degree of desired processing accuracy, and allocating staff time to validate system changes. GAO has two reviews underway which will address SSA progress in these areas.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Inspector General to increase efforts to establish sufficient automatic data processing (ADP) audit capability within the Audit Agency so that reviews of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) system development/modification process and ADP systems audits can be carried out effectively at SSA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to require participation by all users in establishing the functional requirements for proposed systems changes to ensure that these requirements can serve as the system performance criteria against which validation is conducted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has incorporated this recommendation into its System Modernization Program, an approach designed to overcome deficiencies noted by GAO in this and other reports. GAO is continuing to monitor and review SSA efforts in responding to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to require assessment of the independence maintained by systems validators from systems development staff to make sure that they have sufficient control over program and systems changes, especially seeing that formal validation procedures are followed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to require provision for project leaders of major systems development/modification efforts to be assigned full time to managing such projects and conducting them apart from daily systems operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to require periodic updating and modification of initial cost/benefit analyses for all major systems proposals, maintenance of accurate records of costs incurred and benefits realized to facilitate this updating, and use of these data to periodically reevaluate the merit of proceeding with the system change.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to require periodic updating, including revision of priorities, of the existing inventory of user needs to make sure it is current and accurate and can serve as a reliable basis for future development of system modification proposals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO is continuing to monitor and review the SSA implementation of its Systems Modernization Program. SSA has incorporated this recommendation into the Program and addresses the issue in its yearly Program updates. GAO will continue to monitor SSA efforts in responding to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of Social Security to require quick finalization and implementation of detailed agency procedures for communicating with system users.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The System Modernization Program incorporates the overall objective of improving communication with system users. GAO, in current and upcoming reviews, will be analyzing the degree of SSA success in defining and carrying out detailed agency procedures for communicating with system users.

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