For years, the U.S. government has made countless attempts across different agencies to modernize its internal computer systems. Somewhere in between the Stone Age and the Digital Age, we find the Social Security Administration.
A recent report conducted by consulting firm McKinsey & Company reveals that the agency has so far spent a whopping $300 million trying to create a new computer system known as the Disability Case Processing System, or DCPS.
With the best of intentions, the agency sought outside help to streamline its inefficient, archaic claims system. The initial idea was a sensible one: that workers across America could log on to the network to process claims and track them. But it hasn’t exactly work out as planned.
Since the project was first envisioned in 2008, it has been met with a host of mismanagement issues and various setbacks. As of this April, according to the report, over 380 problems were still unresolved. The project remains in the testing phase, and the agency is not ready to say when it will be finished or what the price tag might be, according to reporting by the Associated Press.
"The program has invested $288 million over six years, delivered limited functionality, and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns," concluded the report.
It is unclear as to when the money started flowing out the door, but for the past 5 years, the beta version of the program was consistently projected to be 24-32 months away.
The project was launched in the first place in order to handle the large influx of disability claims more efficiently. Today, those claims are facing even longer wait times—in large part, because the contractor hired to make things better is mired in its own delays and inefficiencies.
Lockheed Martin, the global security company responsible for the flawed $1.5 trillion F-35 fighter that missed its global debut because of engine problems last week, was brought in to rescue the SSDI program in 2011. The contract came with a projected cost of up to $200 million and an estimated timeframe of 2-3 years for completion.
Lockheed Martin, a company that by no means specializes in software development for consumer or business websites, partnered with an Atlanta-based company called Iron Data Solutions, which supports 47 state IT disability case processing systems, as well as Global CI and MacQuarium Intelligent Communications, which were supposed to provide expertise in Health IT and user-centered design practices, according to Lockheed Martin’s January 2011 press release.
“The new system will provide cost savings to the SSA by eliminating the need to maintain separate systems for 54 state and federal sites,” said the press release. “It also will help the agency process disability claims faster and with higher consistency.”
Importantly, 2011 wasn’t the first time SSA teamed up with Lockheed Martin to begin the project. “Lockheed Martin had won a role on a new $2.8 billion, seven-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract to provide information technology solutions to the Social Security Administration,” said a September 2010 Lockheed Martin press release.
The McKinsey report does not specifically point fingers at Lockheed Martin, and for now, the agency intends to continue working with them.
“While we reserve comments until after the Social Security Administration has provided us with a copy of the report and we have had the chance to review it,” said a Lockheed Martin spokesperson, Steve Field, in an email statement to The Fiscal Times. “I can say we are committed to delivering on this program and for our customer.”
Although deep into an investigation on the IRS email scandal, the House Oversight Committee is now calling for new documents. Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) wrote a letter to Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin on Wednesday asking for all communications related to the DCPS project for nearly the last five months.
In the letter, which was also signed by committee members Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and James Lankford (R-OK), the project is referred to as "an IT boondoggle,” one that has gone “adrift.”
The congressmen are also raising questions about whether the agency attempted to hide the McKinsey report, claiming whistleblowers had informed them that senior SSA officials failed to follow standard protocols in sharing the report throughout the agency.
“According to these sources,” said the letter, “senior agency staff placed a very close hold on this report with the goal of ensuring details about its findings remain secret until after [Colvin’s] confirmation by the Senate to be Commissioner. The scope of the project is ambiguous, the project has been poorly executed, and the project's development lacks leadership."
Timing is what makes this kind of government waste all the more outrageous. With more than 11 million people on disability—and expected to rise even further--the fund that pays for SSDI is expected to run out of money by 2016.
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