Social Security rejects testing advice

The General Accounting Office issued a report that says the Social Security Administration needs more diligent testing to avoid problems with its new system for processing electronic disability claims.

Among their recommendations, GAO auditors advised SSA officials to conduct end-to-end testing of all interrelated components before continuing with their current installation schedule. But the March 26 report from congressional auditors also notes that SSA officials have discounted the suggestion because of concerns that the recommended tests would delay the project for three years.

Instead, the agency will continue installing system components in SSA and state disability offices nationwide. Because the electronic claims-processing system is crucial to SSA's efforts to reduce its disability claims backlog, officials are reluctant to slow an 18-month installation schedule that began in January, SSA officials have said.

The GAO report criticizes the agency for proceeding after conducting pilot projects that were too small to give a reasonable assessment of potential problems with the system, which will replace paper folders with electronic folders. But SSA officials disputed GAO's claims and said state disability offices have received more than 5,700 new cases through the system. Of those, more than 1,900 have been processed using the system, the officials said.

GAO also recommended that SSA make certain the new system has appropriate security certification and that the agency follows the software development processes and procedures that it had established at the beginning of the project.

In addition, GAO auditors asked SSA officials to ensure that they have accurately estimated the cost of the disability claims-processing system. In March 2002, SSA received special financing totaling $155 million to accelerate development of the system.

In their response to the auditors' report, SSA officials said another key component of the all-electronic disability claims-processing system would be introduced nationwide in April. Pilot projects of that component, known as the Case Processing Management System, are running smoothly in five disability hearing offices, SSA officials said.

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