SSA needs more planning for data systems upgrades, GAO says

The agency systems are said sufficient for now, but not for future uses

The Social Security Administration is doing a good job of exchanging data with more than 800 federal and state agencies, but it needs to do more to prepare for greater demand and more complexity in those exchanges, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The SSA currently shares data in about 1 billion transactions a year in programs such as the E-Verify employment verification system with the Homeland Security Department, as well as state systems for drivers' licenses, voters registration and food stamps.

Overall, the SSA’s information technology infrastructure is sufficient to meet the current demands, the Oct. 16 GAO report said.

However, demand is increasing and some problems have been reported. Between June and September, the federal E-Verify program experienced two “extended” outages in which queries to the system failed to get through, the report said.

Until June, DHS officials hadn't had problems with outages or down time in the E-Verify system or in the direct lines between departments. According to DHS officials, SSA has dealt with the problem and has plans to implement enhancements to prevent the loss of data if the direct lines fail.

However, GAO determined that the SSA should be doing more preparations for expanded use and more complex uses of its exchange applications that will put more demands on its systems.

For example, E-Verify, which formerly was an all-voluntary program, became mandatory for federal contractors last month. That system had quadrupled use during the past two years, going to about 6 million requests a year, the report said. If legislation is enacted to make the program mandatory, queries could rise to 60 million a year.

Overall, data requests to the SSA rose 15 percent between 2007 and 2008, or from 1.2 billion to 1.4 billion a year.

To prepare for such demands, the SSA is in the process of modernizing and updating its IT infrastructure, and has upgraded its systems environment and opened a new data center. However, more needs to be done, the GAO report recommended.

“SSA has not performed the detailed analyses needed to project the workload and performance requirements of a future data exchange environment,” the GAO report said. “While it has defined an agencywide target architecture, this architecture does not address specific business and technical requirements for supporting the agency’s data exchange programs.”

The report recommended that the SSA conduct an analysis of the workload and requirements for the IT infrastructure and architecture, and SSA officials agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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