SSA pushes to get PEBES service back online this month

The Social Security Administration still hopes it can meet its year-end target to bring back online its controversial Personal Earnings and Benefit Statement (PEBES) service but agency officials want to make sure the system is secure before going back online.

SSA promised in September to put PEBES back on its World Wide Web site after beefing up the service's security. SSA launched PEBES in April to give the public a way to electronically access their personal information in Social Security records including a year-by-year breakout of a worker's earnings history and estimates of their present and future Social Security benefits.

But in May reports indicated how easy it was for an individual who had easily obtainable information to access someone else's Social Security account which included personal tax information. The Web site service was harshly criticized by privacy advocates and Congress. Within days of the reports SSA shut down the online service and planned a series of public forums to collect public comment and search for possible remedies to the privacy problem.

John Sabo director of the electronic services staff at SSA said the new PEBES has eliminated personal earnings and tax information. He also said the site requires users who want to access the system to fill out an online form which asks for the individual's name Social Security number birth date and place and mother's maiden name to be input before the system can be used.

The changes will hinder browsers seeking personal information about other people. "They just can't do it anymore the new features will slow them down " Sabo explained. The system also uses encryption codes for added safety. Sabo said the agency is now at a point "where the requirements have been developed and documented and the staff are now coding the applications."

However while the necessary adjustments have been made to the system Sabo said testing and validating the system may run into next year. Sabo said the agency's goal is to have the application completed and ready for testing Dec. 8 including testing within SSA and with partners outside the agency. But Sabo speaking as the director of the electronic services and not for SSA as a whole said "We're dealing with a lot here and I don't want to rush it.

I think it's much more important in terms of the value of the service to the public to make it the best available proven service than it is to rush it online because we made a rough estimate of the target date back in September. I can't personally commit to a date" when PEBES will be put back online.

Kathy Adams the assistant deputy commissioner for systems at SSA was more sure about meeting the PEBES deadline. "The changes to get PEBES back online were to be completed in December and we are on schedule " she said. She also added that the new system will be "implemented nationally before the end of the year."

A spokeswoman for SSA said "At the time of the announcement we did not think that the end of the year was an unachievable date and we are still shooting for that date. But we want to balance that against having a system that's going to work well for our customers and if we feel that we need more time to look at the system and address any aspects of it then we will take that time."

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