Problem IT threatens progress at Social Security Administration

After more than $280 million spent over six years on an IT project that has yet to be completed, two recent studies argue the Social Security Administration’s faltering IT investments could jeopardize future modernization efforts.

A July 2014 report from the National Academy of Public Administration said the agency must plan strategically in order to make investments necessary for “critical missions” in the future.

Likewise, an internal agency report conducted by McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm, said the nearly $300 million investment to replace outdated computer systems was supposed to be finished by 2011 at the latest. However, the project is still not complete. 


The program, called the Disability Case Processing System, or DCPS, was designed to improve case processing and enhance customer service. But six years and $288 million later the program has “delivered limited functionality and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns,” the McKinsey report said.

The flawed implementation and development of the massive IT project has caused the agency’s leadership to reset the program in order to increase the likelihood of successful delivery, according to the McKinsey report.

“After reviewing our project management approach, they concluded that DCPS represented a significant opportunity for SSA to improve case processing quality, enhance customer service, and reduce administrative costs,” SSA spokesman William Jarrett said in an email to FedScoop. “The McKinsey & Company report also highlights a number of program strengths as well as several priority risks.”

And although the agency faces some adversity in the implementation of DCPS, it remains committed to delivering the initiative successfully.

“Social Security is committed to implementing the assessment recommendations and are confident we will deliver this vital initiative successfully,” Jarrett said.


Obtained from “whistleblowers” by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the 68-page report said the agency should appoint a single executive to be accountable for the project and to centralize the management of the program. The report also calls on the agency to evaluate the “next best” alternative to ensure the path forward. 

2014_07_Screen-Shot-2014-07-24-at-2.16.56-PM-compressor According to a chart from the McKinsey report, DCPS scored below average on the value assurance index. Source: McKinsey Report, obtained by House Oversight Committee

Right now, according to the McKinsey report, DCPS scores below average in the value assurance index, which is used to measure the success factors of a project. 

Even though the McKinsey report was released only a month ago, Jarrett said the agency has embraced the report’s recommendations and taken definitive steps to strengthen the program.


“We appointed a single, accountable, program executive with full authority needed to manage the program and are establishing an integrated program team,” Jarrett said. “We also will refresh requirements, strengthen vendor management, update our cost-benefit analysis and adopt a more agile approach to program development.”

The NAPA report, which was requested by Congress, studied the current capabilities and performance of the SSA in electronic service delivery, investment in automation and information technology, workforce capacity, organizational structure and physical infrastructure. 

NAPA recommended that the agency improve operational efficiency by embracing technology to allow improved communications with its customers. Despite recommending an increase in the use of communication technology, the report also says the agency should continue to provide traditional in-person delivery to provide direct assistance. 

The review called for “aggressive adoption” of technology solutions in order to improve customer service and increase usability. In addition, NAPA suggested the agency prepare for the challenges it doesn’t know it will face yet by becoming more flexible and improving data access.

“While these changes will not come easily, the panel believes that SSA can do what needs to be done with the support of Congress and its stakeholders,” the report said. “SSA has a track record of meeting extraordinary challenges effectively. This is a reason why Congress has often provided it with additional responsibilities, such as eligibility determination and income verification, which SSA has performed with great success.”


The McKinsey report has caused the House Oversight Committee to look into the program. According to a release from the committee’s press office, lawmakers are is looking into whether SSA officials attempted to hide the report from the public. 

In a letter to acting SSA Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and James Lankford, R-Okla., called the project a “boondoggle” and requested all documents and communications about the DCPS project since March 1. 

“The DCPS project is adrift, the scope of the project is ambiguous, the project has been poorly executed, and the project’s development lacks leadership,” the lawmakers said in the letter.

When FedScoop reached out to SSA for comment, William “BJ” Jarrett, the agency’s spokesperson, said they had just received the NAPA report and have not had an opportunity to review and respond to the findings of the report.

We will look at what NAPA proposes and consider their feedback as we move forward to develop our long-range strategic vision, which we plan to publish in October,” Jarrett told FedScoop. “The agency will engage broadly with internal and external stakeholders, including Social Security employees, labor organizations, management associations, the Social Security Advisory Board, members of Congress and their staffs, advocates, and—most important—the public we serve, as we develop our vision.”

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