GAO: SSA's contracting guidance lacks agility


The Social Security Administration spends about $1 billion a year on upgrades to retire legacy systems. The agency has emphasized the importance of modernizing its aging IT systems with agile software development techniques, but it hasn't been as agile in adopting acquisition practices for them, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report, conducted at the request of Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on a key Ways and Means subcommittee, said the SSA's program to modernize its aging IT systems using incremental software development doesn't have clear roles for its contracting personnel to get those services.

The GAO reviewed 27 SSA contracts for the report, evaluating how they handled agile acquisition. It also looked at previous reports from the agency's inspector general on systems that used contractors trained in agile techniques. Those contracts included the agency's Disability Case Processing System and Disability Case Processing System version 2.

It found that although SSA adopted agile development in 2015, its acquisition practices to get the capabilities remain patchy.

"Given the complexity and pace of agile programs, contracting leading practices for agile adoption state that clearly defined roles and responsibilities to promote effective contract oversight and management are critical to successful program outcomes," the report states.

While SSA has agile guidance for team members, but SSA's acquisition handbook does not identify how contracting officers should handle IT contracts and task orders that have agile processes in them.

GAO said agile acquisition recommendations in its own guidebook call for agencies' acquisition policies and guidance to provide clear lanes for contracting personnel.

SSA, auditors said, should spell out those roles in every acquisition to make them more efficient. GAO recommended SSA's commissioner and CIO office work with the agency's Office of Acquisition and Grants on developing relevant guidance to identify contracting officials' role in agile software development processes.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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