A $300 million IT flop

Six years and nearly $300 million later, the Social Security Administration has decided to press "reset" on its project to improve the claim processing system. Here's what happened.

Social Security Administration Logo

Six years and nearly $300 million later, the Social Security Administration has decided to press "reset" on its project to improve the claim processing system. Here's what happened.

After six years of development at a cost of nearly $300 million, the Social Security Administration has decided to press "reset" on its project to improve a claim processing system after a recent report found it to be not up to the task.

A report by McKinsey and Co., commissioned by the SSA in early 2014 on the status of the Disability Case Processing System, found that the program "delivered limited functionality, and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns."

The project was conceived to replace 54 separate components used in the SSA's disability determination system.

The Disability Case Processing System would replace those disparate elements with a common case-processing system that uses automated tools to reduce processing time for initial disability claims, decrease processing-related task time and increase system availability.

But it remains a work in progress, McKinsey concluded.

"While current release plan and beta testing model are conceptually sound, execution has fallen short, resulting in deployment of immature software to production that does not deliver incremental value to [disability determination systems]," the report said.

The McKinsey report said the SSA's response to the problems with the new system "has been to continue going broad without maintaining high quality and full functionality, which has exacerbated change management challenges."

The report also found more than 380 outstanding problems with the latest beta, and the system was unable to process all the new claims or accurately track them throughout the system.

Throughout the past six years, the project has been stuck in the beta phase. According to McKinsey, "for past 5 years, Release 1.0 is consistently projected to be 24-32 months away."

Lockheed Martin, prime contractor on the project, said it has reviewed the report and is "committed to delivering on this program and for our customer."

Greg Gershman, co-founder of Ad Hoc LLC., a technology consulting company focused on helping improve government's approach to IT projects, said that starting over might not be a bad idea.

"With an IT system like this, it would be smart to bring in technology experts, people who have experience with transactional, data-driven applications, to assess what they currently have, can it be salvaged or does it need to be started over from scratch," Gershman said.

Echoing McKinsey, Gershman said that without a strong leadership element, IT projects of this magnitude are almost doomed to fail from the start.

"If there's not strong leadership, problems arise with coordinating work between contractors, and there's no one person looking at the system as a single entity -- everyone is making sure their piece is done, and fulfilling their responsibility up to a certain point," he said.

In response to the report, SSA appointed Terri Gruber, an assistant deputy commissioner, as program executive with full authority. SSA also is establishing an integrated program team and will refresh requirements, strengthen vendor management, update its cost benefit analysis and adopt a more agile approach to program development, a spokesperson said in an email to FCW.

Gershman, who also worked on the post-Healthcare.gov tech surge, said there are some commonalities between the two failed projects. And he took particular aim at the use of large firms that don't do web development as their first priority.

"You have companies like Lockheed Martin -- they're not web development companies, they don't do work in the private sector, they're not building start-ups," Gershman said. "There's very little in the market that forces them to adopt new technologies."

"Government needs to change how it approaches projects like this, not using system integrators or defense contractors who have repeatedly come up with failures," he said

And, as was the case with HealthCare.gov, Congress is getting involved. Lawmakers wrote a letter to Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner at SSA, requesting all documents and communications related to DCPS since March 1, 2014.

According to that letter, written by Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and James Lankford, R-Okla., "the report found that the DCPS project is adrift, the scope of the project is ambiguous, the project has been poorly executed, and the project's development lacks leadership."

The letter also said that whistleblowers informed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs, of the existence of the report and told the committee that senior officials at SSA failed to follow standard protocols and procedures in disseminating the report throughout the agency, with the intention of keeping the findings secret until after the Senate confirmed Colvin as commissioner.

The SSA said it anticipated implementing the revamped DCPS in all of the disability determination systems and federal case processing sites in fiscal 2015.

"We are committed to implementing the assessment recommendations and are confident we will deliver this vital initiative successfully," SSA told FCW.

NEXT STORY: Can 28 nations collaborate online?

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.