Social Security e-claims system still has issues: GAO
The Social Security Administration has met its schedule to implement an electronic disability claim processing system, but the agency still needs to improve it and resolve some operational issues, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Social Security will complete installation of its electronic disability claims processing system, known as AeDib, next month at the last of 53 state disability determination centers and 85 offices of hearings and appeals.
The AeDib system is designed to expedite determination for benefits to the disabled under Social Security’s Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs.
But it will take until January 2007 to certify that all state offices can electronically process claims and maintain the electronic folder as an official claims record. State disability offices have also expressed concerns about the system’s operations and reliability, such as inadequacies in electronic forms and the computer monitors used to view the claims information, according to a GAO report
Social Security has taken action on three previous GAO recommendations and begun validating AeDib’s planning, cost and benefits assumptions, approved new software and certified its systems for production, and improved its communications with state disability officials.
However, the agency did not follow through before installation on thorough testing of AeDib’s interrelated system and completion of risk mitigation for the projects supporting the initiative, GAO said.
“Thorough testing and risk mitigation strategies could have helped limit problems with the system’s operation and other circumstances that could impede the project’s success,” said Linda Koontz, director of GAO information management issues, in the report.
Some state disability determination officials said that as Social Security brought the system online, or added new software to enhance functionality, they had operating problems, such as computer screen freezes, system slowdowns and system access issues, that disrupted the processing of claims. Social Security has fixed many of the problems, the officials said, but some remain. And many of the offices said the electronic forms were difficult to load and use.
Social Security should develop a strategy that details milestones, resources and priorities to improve the use of electronic forms, correct problems with computer monitors and ensure that disability determination services offices have the necessary software capabilities, GAO said in the report. The agency also should make sure that the disability determination offices put in place continuity of operations plans that mesh with Social Security’s plans for continuing essential disability claims processing in any emergency, the report added.
Social Security, however, disagreed with GAO’s recommendations in part, saying it already was addressing problems.
“SSA’s rollout experience reflects a reasoned, deliberate process,” said JoAnne Barnhart, Social Security administrator, in a letter in response. Barnhart detailed the management process, including planning, risk management and consultation with state Social Security representatives. The agency also hired a contractor to identify potential risks as the project moved forward.
The agency has established a new help desk to support offices experiencing hardware and software problems and has contracted for services to monitor capacity of the computers’ processors.
Problems with electronic forms processes should ease as Social Security retrofits offices with the software to necessary to process initial claims electronically, Barnhart said.
Social Security has contracted with Booz Allen Hamilton to update its business continuity plans for the disability determination offices.
“While a formal disaster recovery document for DDS electronic systems does not exist, disaster recovery has been part of SSA’s planning process since the advent of eDib,” Barnhart said. The agency will use the results from a successful disaster recovery drill with the Florida disability determination offices in July as a basis for developing a general disaster recovery document for all other state disability determination offices.
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