Testimony: Social Security Still Putting Millions Of Identities At Risk, Despite $300 Million Investment

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Juliegrace Brufke Capitol Hill Reporter

The Social Security Administration’s dated technology risks the data of some of the most vulnerable Americans and causes the agency to be seriously deficient in critical areas, according to Wednesday testimony from the SSA Inspector General.

SSA IG Patrick O’Carroll said the influx of disability and retirement claims has been difficult for the agency to handle, during a hearing on waste, fraud and abuse prevention in front of the House Ways and Means subcommittee.

In his written testimony, O’Carroll taps budgetary constraints, the aging baby-boomer population, more women in the workforce and the economic downturn as the main culprits — not to mention the SSA’s own aging workforce.

Nevertheless, millions of identities are still vulnerable to breaches, despite the $300 million the SSA spent on an unfinished Disability Case Processing System. The project was supposed to modernize technology, streamline claims and prevent delays, but rampant mismanagement, as detailed in an internal report, played a key role in the system’s failed installation.

Rep. [crscore]Bob Dold[/crscore] of Illinois questioned how improvements could be made without burdening the American taxpayer, adding he’s very concerned about the IT system putting Americans’ identities at risk.

O’Carroll said while the agency is about six years into the process, it made a recent decision to change its development approach on the not-yet-completed system. He added he’s concerned about the lack of dates and deliverables on the systems completion due to the fluidity on how it’s being handled.  O’Carroll said while the agency says the update will  ultimately lead to cost savings, the OIG has not been able to identify where.

When questioned on what the system’s total costs are projected to be, O’Carroll said one of his major concerns is they don’t know how much more will have to be spent on the project.

“The problem we foresee with it is the  personalization, in that each of the states out there, after they get the core on it, will then personalize it as much or as little as that state needs,” he said. “And with each of those cases, that’s another cost out there that is hard to ascertain because we don’t know what the core is going to be and what each of the states are going to be asking for. It’s hard to get any specifics.”

Rep. [crscore]Mike Kelly[/crscore] of Pennsylvania said the percentage of fraud at the agency is likely much higher than its touted 1 percent rate, to which O’Carroll agreed.

“The huge difference between a private entity running a business and the federal government running a business is in the private entity, if it’s not able to control fraud it goes out of business,” Kelly said. “In a government entity, all we do is throw more money at it and say that hardworking American taxpayers are going to have to find a way to cough up more money.”

O’Carroll Said he would like to see a baseline to evaluate what efforts the agency and OIG make are effective – adding it’s hard to put a percentage on SSA’s fraud rate since no other benefit program has established numbers.

Democrats argued more funding needs to be allocated to the agency if they want to prevent further issues.

“Inadequate funding jeopardizes Social Security’s mission of ensuring Americans receive the benefits they have earned for themselves and their families, as well as providing them with the service they paid for with their payroll tax contributions,” Ranking Member [crscore]Xavier Becerra[/crscore] said.

O’Carroll – who is set to retire at the end of the month after serving as an SSA watchdog for over a decade – said the progress the agency is making could be set back with a new administration and hopes the committee keeps the IT modernizing in the forefront to prevent future problems.

“The concern is the keys to the castle of all information for American citizens is at SSA, and a breach of SSA would be catastrophic in terms of  the reputation of this organization so for that reason the modernization of SSA, bringing in all the new forms of IT security is very important,” he said, adding a good IT system will help to prevent money getting into the hands of the wrong people.

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