SSA can't afford the wait

Four years ago, the Social Security Administration began a six-year process

of setting up 56,000 employees in field offices with personal computers.

At the time, SSA hailed the Intelligent Workstation/Local Area Network (IWS/LAN)

program as a bellwether project, with the potential to improve customer

service dramatically by giving agency reps immediate access to benefits

information.

SSA will build on that technology for years, but IWS/LAN is no longer

viable as a procurement model. The agency, faced with new challenges in

the years ahead, can no longer afford to take half a dozen years to put

new technology in the field.

During the coming years, about half of SSA's employees will be eligible

for retirement, leaving the agency scrambling to replace them. Unfortunately,

the nation's population is aging as well, "which has sent our workload

through the roof," said Bill Gray, assistant deputy commissioner for systems.

SSA expects a 27 percent increase in claims between now and 2010.

Gray said IWS/LAN and other gargantuan federal PC-purchasing vehicles

have demonstrated the role of technology in improving customer service,

but the drawn-out implementation cycle meant foregoing other opportunities

to improve services.

"We need a robust infrastructure to run paperless processing, decision-support

mechanisms and to use the Internet as a service delivery tool," Gray said.

"For that, we need more powerful machines on three- or four-year life cycles

to take advantage of the technologies offering these opportunities."

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