SSA faces hurdles in replacing data center, IG says

Stimulus law provided $500 million for data center replacement

The Social Security Administration is facing several difficulties in using stimulus funding to replace its National Computer Center, according to a new report by the agency's Office of the Inspector General.

Under the economic stimulus law, SSA will receive $500 million for building a new data center. To fulfill all the goals of the law, the agency must ensure that the funding takes place within a reasonable time frame, with transparency and accountability, and it must achieve the desired outcomes and avoid cost overruns.

But meeting all those goals while maintaining current and expanding workloads could be a daunting task, according to the Nov. 6 report. “We believe the replacement of the NCC and having the systems capacity needed to meet its workload are challenges for the agency,” the inspector general wrote.

Growing workloads and expanding telecommunications services are straining the current data center. By 2012, it might not be able to support SSA’s workload, and yet the replacement center will not be brought online until 2015, the inspector general noted.

The Social Security Advisory Board has recognized the problems and said the existing center’s structural shortcomings and electrical capacity issues make it imperative to build a second primary data center as a replacement.

The IG is also concerned about SSA's disaster recovery plan. The backup facility, run by a private company, would allow for the recovery of only 25 to 30 percent of the agency’s production capacity, auditors found.

SSA officials have recognized those risks, the report states, and have said they are taking steps to mitigate the risks and ensure proper project management, site selection and oversight while complying with environmental requirements.

The report characterizes the economic stimulus law requirements, including replacement of the data center, as being among eight major management challenges facing the agency.

The other challenges are reducing the backlog for hearings; improving the timeliness of the disability process; reducing improper payments; improving customer service; increasing transparency and accountability; and investing in information technology to support current and future workloads.

SSA has taken action to address the management challenges, the recent IG report states.

In addition, the Government Accountability Office recommended in a recent report that the agency do more planning and preparation to handle an expanded amount of information exchange with other federal agencies.

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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