SSA data center nearing 'catastrophic failure'

New center is still years away

A new data center planned for the Social Security Administration is more than a year behind schedule and the agency’s current building is bordering on “catastrophic failure,” government officials told two congressional subcommittees, reports NextGov.

The SSA’s National Computer Center  has a host of problems, including tangled telecommunications and electrical cables underneath the data center floor, an outdated HVAC system, clogged pipes and an antiquated uninterruptible power system, and is near collapse, according to the testimony. 

The 1970s infrastructure is the root of the problems, which threaten to shut down the vital agency at any moment for days, Kelly Croft, SSA deputy commissioner for systems, told a joint oversight committee hearing entitled “Managing Costs and Mitigating Delays in the Building of the Social Security’s New National Computer Center” on Feb. 11.


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“However, even one day of potential IT service outage would cause a major disruption to our customers and cost approximately $25 million in lost agency productivity,” said Croft in a statement.

Now scheduled to be completed in August 2016, the new center is planned to handle and store about 500,000 electronic records that determine the citizen benefits.

Meanwhile, officials worry that the current data center, the 30-year-old NCC in Baltimore is riddled with too many problems and may not last another five years. The SSA nationwide computer operation is run from the NCC and a Secondary Support Center in Durham, N.C. These computer operations allow the SSA to pay benefits of more than $700 billion to about 56 million Americans and store data on most U.S. workers. Currently, the SSA processes more than 75 million business transactions per day.

In 2008, a Lockheed Martin study said the NCC is an aging facility with “significant” electrical and mechanical challenges including several points of failure – “where the entire NCC would shut down should any of these points fail.” At that time, the study indicated that NCC would only continue operating “safely and uninterrupted” for an additional three to five years, with construction deadline being 2013, said the hearing’s briefing memorandum.

To ensure the NCC remains operational until the current project is completed, improvements are being made to the current building. A General Services Adminstration Building Engineering Report as well as a feasibility study is being conducted. For some, that only represents a bandage approach.

“Relying on short-term fixes to serious problems at an old data center is just too much of a risk for our nation,” said Chairman Jeff Denham (R.-Calif.) of the Economic Development, Public Building and Emergency Management Subcommittee, in a statement.

“That is why it is particularly troubling that the timeline for completion of the new data center has already slipped by a year,” Denham added.

Delays occurred when members of Congress, GSA and SSA could not agree on where’s to build the $500 million structure. Last week, GSA chose a site in Frederick County, Md.

About the Author

Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.

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