GAO praises, criticizes SSA's Year 2000 efforts

The General Accounting Office last week presented a mixed bag of warnings and compliments to the Social Security Administration's efforts to make its computers Year 2000-compliant. While praising SSA for having one of the most progressive programs to identify and fix computers so that they can properly process dates after Jan. 1 2000 GAO also concluded that the agency must address three problem areas: data exchanges among federal state and local agencies and private-sector organizations Year 2000 problems relating to the oversight of disability determination services (DDS) which are state agencies that make medical determinations on disability claims filed through SSA and a contingency plan if SSA does not meet its Year 2000 agenda.

In addition the GAO report said private contractors hired by SSA to fix 42 of the 54 state DDS systems found that at least 33 million lines of software code must be assessed.

Despite the shortcomings Joel Willemssen GAO's director for information resources management said SSA has made significant progress in ensuring that its computers will not shut down make calculation errors or fail in some other way when it processes Year 2000 data. "We think SSA deserves some credit for its leadership and actually they have one of the best federal programs that we have come across in implementing an effective program for dealing with the Year 2000 problem " Willemssen said. "If you compare and contrast them to other federal agencies they have done a pretty good job in the Year 2000 program."

Kathy Adams the assistant deputy commissioner for systems at SSA and chairwoman of the CIO Council's Subcommittee on the Year 2000 said she is "very comfortable" with the agency's progress so far. She added that SSA has accomplished many initiatives including receiving detailed plans from states as to when they will have their assessments renovations and testing completed and having SSA contract with vendors to conduct Year 2000 changes at the state level instead of having individual state SSA offices negotiate with contractors to solve the problem.

Adams also said SSA has developed a contingency plan. "Our main contingency is to have all of our forward-year date testing completed by December 1998 " she said "so our contingency is that we have an entire year if we have any problems."

But members of Congress used the GAO report to criticize SSA. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) chairman of the Special Committee on Aging said last week "For some reason the SSA did not include the disability portion of its work when it was figuring out the Year 2000 problems in its mission-critical systems. The result: Millions of sick needy people ...could be prevented or delayed from getting SSA's assistance."

In September Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management Information and Technology gave SSA the highest grade - an A-minus - of any federal agency for its effort in fixing date problems. Horn has said the GAO report shows just how pervasive the Year 2000 problem is governmentwide. "It is worth reflecting on the larger meaning of this GAO report " he said. "The Year 2000 problem is worse that we thought even at the SSA - the agency that everyone including GAO agrees has been the leader in fixing the problems so far. This makes me wonder what problems are lurking at the agencies that earned D's and F's " Horn said.

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