Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reports about IT: Social Security Collapse?

Whether the Social Security Trust Fund can remain financially viable is the subject of much study and debate, currently reported.  For example, see:
  • Proposals Addressing Trust Fund Solvency (updated 01/06/11) posted by the SSA, listing eight memoranda studying many of the proposals and options that address the projected exhaustion of the Social Security Trust Fund, between 2037 and 2041, under the intermediate set of economic and demographic assumptions provided in each of the five prior annual Trustees' reports. 
A lesser known, but perhaps more immediate problem, was identified by government officials, and reported recently by geeks and techies.

The information hardware facilities and software capabilities of the Social Security Administration are reported to be inadequate to handle the biggest database in the world.

In Social Security Data Center Approaching Collapse (01/03/11), published by InformationWeek - Government, reporter Elizabeth Montalban highlighted that "an inspector general finds agency operations at high risk due to delays in upgrading its critical infrastructure and software."
A report by SSA IG Patrick P. O'Carroll Jr., examining the top management challenges the agency will face in 2011, shows it grappling with a host of IT infrastructure projects the agency's IG, Congress, and the SSA's advisory board worry it can't handle.

One of the biggest problems is the agency's transition to a new data center, according to the report. The IG has characterized the replacement of the SSA's National Computer Center (NCC) -- built in 1979 -- as the SSA's "primary IT investment" in the next few years.

The agency has received more than $500 million so far to replace the outdated center, which is now so severely strained by an expanded workload over its time of operation that it may not be able to function by 2012, according to the report.

However, the SSA does not foresee completing the new center until 2015, a project the IG deems as "imperative" considering the precarious position of the existing NCC. * * *
This IT crisis comes just as the SSA intends to computerize even more aspects of its functions, hoping to achieve operating cost savings and improve customer service.  See:  Social Security CIO On What's Next In Online Engagement (01/06/11) by J. Nicholas Hoover, also posted by InformationWeek, reporting that "social media, digital credentials, and behavior modeling are being employed to get more Americans to use the Web to get their retirement benefits, says IT chief Frank Baitman."

Both these actuarial and technological challenges must be addressed -- and soon -- to avoid collapse of a system central to most Americans.

"The Social Security program plays an important part
in providing for families, children, and older persons in times of stress.
But it cannot remain static.
Changes in our population, in our working habits, and in our standard of living
require constant revision."
-- John F. Kennedy (June 30, 1961)