House moves to head off Y2K-disruption of Social Security payments

A House subcommittee, worried that the Year 2000 problem could disrupt the delivery of about 50 million Social Security retirement and disability payments, plans to study whether to transfer the responsibility of the payments from the Treasury Department to the Social Security Administration.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), vice chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, today said SSA should be in charge of processing its own benefit payments because its computer systems are better prepared for the Year 2000 problem than those at Treasury, the agency now responsible for processing payments for the Social Security retirement and the Supplemental Security Income programs. About 65 percent of the payments are deposited electronically.

Sessions offered an amendment to the Government Waste, Fraud and Error Reduction Act of 1998 that would transfer the payment responsibility to SSA, but the subcommittee voted to research the proposal and discuss it with the agencies. Members, however, expect the proposal to be brought up again in coming weeks before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) suggested that members discuss Sessions' proposal with members of the Clinton administration before attaching it as an amendment to the legislation. "This is a big, big change," she said. "Quite frankly, I don't really know what this amendment would mean administratively."

Maloney said she was not necessarily opposed to the amendment, however. "I don't know what my opinion is," she said. "I may be supporting it. I just don't know."

In a recent Year 2000 "report card" issued by subcommittee chairman Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), Treasury received a C for its progress in fixing computers to accept dates after December 1999, while SSA received an A-plus. Although SSA is on top of its Year 2000 problem, results could be disastrous if an agency with a more serious Year 2000 problem is responsible for a significant piece of SSA's work, Sessions said.

"Because of the dismal performance in the area of Y2K, I propose that we move from the Financial Management Service to the Social Security Administration the ability to process checks distributed to the nation's retirees," he said.

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