Lack of funds endangers IWS/LAN

The $1.1 billion Intelligent Workstation/Local-Area Network program, the core of the Social Security Administration's modernization effort, is in danger of serious delay if Congress does not provide the requested $300 million funding for fiscal 1997, agency officials warned last week.

After testifying at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, SSA commissioner Shirley Chater told FCW that if the agency does not receive nearly all of its fiscal 1997 request for IWS/LAN, "we'll just fall further and further behind, and we'll never really be able to get the network up and running because other [SSA employees will] still be using antiquated equipment."

Chater said IWS/LAN, which will place a PC on every desk and link field offices directly to SSA databases, is "the single most important thing we have asked for [in the budget request] because it is the basis for how we deliver customer service across the agency and is the basis for re-engineering every business process we do."

IWS/LAN, which SSA plans to award by June 14, already has fallen behind schedule.

SSA officials estimate that the $167 million IWS/LAN received as part of the recently agreed to fiscal 1996 appropriations bills will delay IWS/LAN implementation by three to six months as it is one-third less than requested.

IWS/LAN received $220 million in fiscal 1994 and $88 million in fiscal 1995. But fiscal 1996 and 1997 are the most crucial funding years, said Dale Sopper, acting deputy commissioner of finance, assessment and management at SSA.

"Fiscal '96 and '97 are the years of heavy obligation," Sopper said. "We're going to be obligating the bulk of the money that we have [this fiscal year and next] for site preparation, the workstations, the computers and the local-area network contracts...so we have to have that money or this project" could be seriously delayed.

Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), chairman of the Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, declined to indicate how much the subcommittee may slate for IWS/LAN and pointed out that the fiscal 1997 budget allocations expected to pass this month will determine how much can be allocated.

Porter said he is pleased with SSA's management of the program and understands its importance to the agency. However, "everybody gets less than they ask for."

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