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US Social Security Administration spent nearly US$300 million on IT project 'boondoggle,' lawmakers say

Chris Kanaracus | July 25, 2014
The U.S. Social Security Administration has spent nearly US$300 million on a software system for processing disability claims that still isn't finished and has delivered limited useful functionality, according to an independent report on the project.

The U.S. Social Security Administration has spent nearly US$300 million on a software system for processing disability claims that still isn't finished and has delivered limited useful functionality, according to an independent report on the project.

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week released a copy of the study, which the SSA commissioned McKinsey to develop.

While the report was finished in June, SSA officials placed "a very close hold on the report with the goal of ensuring details about its findings remain secret until after Senate confirmation of Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin as Commissioner," three Republican members of the committee alleged in a letter, citing unnamed "whistleblowers." The letter was signed by committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Jim Jordan of Ohio.

The committee member's sources also said Colvin's chief of staff warned SSA employees "not to inquire about the report or even discuss its existence until later this year," the letter adds. "We find these allegations deeply disturbing."

"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," the letter adds.

The SSA didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday. But Terrie Gruber, whom Colvin appointed leader of the project last month, told the Associated Press that the SSA "asked for this, this independent look, and we weren't afraid to hear what the results are."

"We are absolutely committed to deliver this initiative and by implementing the recommendations we obtained independently, we think we have a very good prospect on doing just that," Gruber told the AP.

The SSA has spent $288 million during a six-year period on the project, which is called DCPS (Disability Case Processing System), according to the McKinsey report.

It cites a number of reasons for the project's woes, including "suboptimal system design" and little engagement with users after the initial design phase, resulting in "substantial quality and usability problems."

As of its beta release 4, the system will still have more than 380 outstanding problems, according to the study.

The project has seen years of delays, with the current projected date for a 1.0 product now sometime in 2016, according to a chart in the report.

However, without a "significant reset" of the project, even that time frame is likely underestimated, the report states.

On the other hand, DCPS "has the potential to drive tremendous value" by cutting costs and improving disability case processing, it adds. There's also "palpable" excitement for the project among the individuals involved in it, according to the report.

 

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