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US Social Security 'wasted $300 million on an IT BOONDOGGLE'

Scrutiny committee bods probe derailed database project

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Members of the US Congress are demanding answers from the Social Security Administration (SSA) over an ongoing IT project that has racked up a $288m bill without deploying a field-ready product.

A trio of representatives from the House Oversight Committee said in a letter to the SSA that they had "serious problems" with the way it has handled a planned overhaul of the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS), which has been ongoing for six years.

The DCPS is considered to be a central part of the SSA and has long been due for an overhaul to replace aging technology in the system. In 2010 the administration commissioned an update project, contracting Lockheed Martin to build the system with a delivery date for 2015.

As that overhaul effort stalled, however, bills started to mount and in 2014 the SSA said that it commissioned audit firm McKinsey and Company to investigate the program. What the audit found led to a scathing appraisal of the project.

Among the issues found by the auditors was poor management, confusion in planning and delays in development, which led to multiple missed deadlines and a project that has yet to move beyond a beta testing phase.

Limited functionality

"The program has invested $288m over 6 years, delivered limited functionality, and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns," the report read.

"While the DCPS program has many strengths (e.g. stakeholder commitment and early involvement), to ensure success, DCPS may want to continue to review program improvements to determine if additional resets are required."

The audit report [PDF] includes a number of recommendations, such as management consolidation and clarified objectives and a defined schedule for rollout of the new systems. The SSA said in a statement to The Reg that it was taking the recommendations to heart.

"Social Security has embraced McKinsey’s recommendations and has already taken proactive and definitive steps to strengthen the program. For instance, we appointed a single, accountable, program executive with full authority needed to manage the program and are establishing an integrated program team," the administration told us.

"We also will refresh requirements; strengthen vendor management, update our cost benefit analysis; and adopt a more agile approach to program development."

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, is remaining mum on the matter.

"While we reserve comments until after the Social Security Administration has provided us with a copy of the full report and we have had the chance to review it, I can say we are committed to delivering on this program and for our customer," a spokesperson told The Reg.

Though the SSA has vowed to implement the changes, Committee members Darrell Issa (R-CA) James Lankford (R-OK) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) are asking SSA Commissioner Carolyn Colvin for more information on the matter, including why the report, completed in June, was not handed over to the committee sooner.

In particular, the letter [PDF] brings up claims that Colvin's office deliberately withheld the bulk of the report from Congress until the completion of the commissioner's Senate confirmation hearings.

"We find these allegations deeply disturbing, and if true, they suggest that your agency is attempting to mislead or withhold information from the Congress and the American public," the committee trio wrote.

"Moreover, it is concerning that while you and other agency officials routinely testify that the agency needs more funding from Congress, the agency wasted nearly $300 million on an IT boondoggle." ®

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