Solving Social Security Computer Problems:

Comprehensive Corrective Action Plan and Better Management Needed

HRD-82-19: Published: Dec 10, 1981. Publicly Released: Jan 11, 1982.

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Serious problems continue to plague the Social Security Administration's (SSA) automatic data processing (ADP) operations. SSA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agreed in May of 1981 that inefficient computer software, inadequate hardware capacity, and systems personnel deficiencies have created an ADP systems crisis at the agency. Major problems have combined to create an ADP environment in which the SSA ADP systems managers react to crises rather than use planned approaches for solving ADP problems.

The current multifaceted ADP crisis at SSA has resulted from longstanding weaknesses in agency ADP planning and management. Since 1974, GAO has issued 32 reports discussing ADP-related planning; improper development and modification of systems and software; deficiencies in equipment acquisition and operation, including the acquisition of telecommunication resources; and the failure to provide adequate privacy protection and security components. A comprehensive, agencywide, long-term plan is an essential prerequisite to effective long-range ADP planning. SSA has not developed such a plan. Without such a plan, the ongoing efforts by SSA to develop a long-range solution to its current ADP problems are unlikely to respond adequately to its emerging long-term program and systems needs. If properly developed and implemented, this plan should go a long way toward putting the SSA systems on the road to recovery. Developing effective plans and making them work are tasks which will require much better overall ADP planning and management than SSA has demonstrated.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Numerous congressional committees have expressed continuing interest in the SSA ADP efforts. The GAO Information Management and Technology Division now has a resident team of ADP auditors assigned to the Social Security Audit effort, and SSA efforts to implement its ADP systems corrective plan are being monitored constantly.

    Matter: Congress should periodically review SSA efforts to develop and implement its ADP systems' corrective action plan.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The SSA Systems Modernization Program is the SSA plan for completely redesigning its major ADP systems, and it addresses competitive hardware replacement. GAO is continuing to monitor SSA progress under the program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should begin to plan for completely redesigning the SSA major ADP systems, including competitive replacement of hardware, to correspond with the overall agencywide plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1982, SSA unveiled its Systems Modernization Program, a long range planning effort designed to move SSA computer and communications systems to a modern state of the art data processing system. This plan was responsive to GAO concerns that SSA lacked a long range planning process to address its future ADP needs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should complete the structuring of the SSA comprehensive long-range planning process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1983, SSA determined that it was more cost effective, more flexible and more timely to take advantage of the increased capacity of its new communications host processors and the capability of the data communications utility to process intelligence applications. The agency is now pursuing this approach.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should determine whether the potential disadvantages associated with processing future application programs in the concentrators, such as deteriorating response times and competitive upgrade or replacement restrictions, outweigh the advantages of this approach, such as simplifying software maintenance, before deciding where in the telecommunications network such future applications may be processed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA has taken action to improve the security and privacy of SSA data under the System Modernization Program. Two ongoing GAO reviews are analyzing the success of SSA efforts and will report the results to Congress during 1985.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should carefully screen prospective suppliers of computer time to make sure that they can provide adequate privacy protection and security for SSA data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The SSA System Modernization Program addresses the concerns discussed in this recommendation. The large scale systems have been or will be identified for improvement as part of the program. GAO is continually monitoring SSA efforts under the program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should reexamine current large-scale systems, identify those having poor equipment configurations causing excessive overhead, and reconfigure this equipment wherever possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The SSA System Modernization Program is responsive to this recommendation. The program includes a major software redesign and development effort which incorporates rewriting existing applications software and development of new applications software. GAO is conducting a review to determine the extent of SSA success in addressing software contracting efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should supplement existing staff with outside ADP support wherever applicable, but especially for the rewriting of existing application software and the development of new application programs. In all such cases, SSA should correctly determine the status of software development at the point of contracting and then develop and manage the contracts very carefully.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO recognizes that many of its numerous pre-1982 recommendations were considered when SSA created the System Modernization Program in 1982. Further, consultants' numerous recommendations were taken into account in creating the program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should review all prior GAO recommendations for improving SSA systems and implement those still applicable. HHS should similarly review the numerous other systems studies performed at SSA and implement the recommendations as appropriate, especially those directed to solving recurring problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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