SSA balks at GAO suggestions on e-disability claims process

The Social Security Administration has refused to accept recommendations that the General Accounting Office contends will reduce the risks in rolling out an electronic disability claims process. SSA argues its testing indicates the system is ready.

“None of your recommendations compel us to change directions,” said SSA commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart in a written response to GAO’s report. Barnhart added she had considered GAO’s report carefully. The recommendations would have delayed rollout by at least three years, she said

“We do continue to aggressively troubleshoot the technical bugs that are inevitable with any complex new IT system, and so far our track record has been strong,” Barnhart said.

But GAO’s report, released Friday, said SSA is relying on limited pilot testing with too few examiners to guide business decisions and to ensure that technology supporting the system will work.

“SSA cannot be assured that interrelated components will work together successfully,” said Linda Koontz, director of GAO’s information management issues. SSA is beginning national rollout of the system without ensuring that all critical problems identified during the pilot have been resolved and without doing tests to adequately evaluate the performance of all system components collectively, the report said.

The Accelerated Electronic Disability System is supposed to reduce the time for adjudication and review and speed up benefits to recipients. AeDib will replace a mostly paper process that suffers from claim review backlogs.

SSA should complete full end-to-end testing before national rollout and ensure that users have approved the software, GAO said. The agency should assemble a time line that minimizes security and systems risks, auditors concluded. It should also validate cost-benefit estimates, which would assure that its cost expectations are reliable, GAO said.

Studies to complete validation of AeDib cost assumptions are under way, SSA said. The technical data on systems performance, operational management information and progress reports from sites all support deployment, Barnhart said.

So far, the agency has used the system to receive 5,700 cases at state disability offices and processed 1,900 cases. For participating pilot offices, AeDib has cut total disability processing times, she said, adding that the system is running smoothly in five hearing offices, too. SSA will begin a five-month nationwide rollout next month and make the system accessible in hearing rooms this summer.

“After two years, we are essentially on schedule, staying within our project budget, and delivering the core functionality as originally conceived,” Barnhart said.

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