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Summary In the fall of 1974, the Social Security Administration (SSA) began planning a complete redesign of its data processing and internal communications systems, based largely on modern computer technology. The effort was undertaken to improve the speed, accuracy, efficiency, and responsiveness of its day-to-day operations. The need for such improvement and modernization had become apparent with the increases in employees and computers. The latter were normally added in an unplanned, ad hoc way, with little emphasis on cost effectiveness, in order to keep pace with the expanding workload of new programs and more clients. Earlier in 1974, after examining the problems of the SSA, the ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ that the agency should estab- li So a unit to devise a long-range plan for designing, developing, and implementing a new information processing system that takes full advan- tage of the capabilities of advanced computer-communications technology. In December of the same year, President Ford directed the SSA to use the best possible automatic data processing techniques to improve its opera- tional efficiency. By June 1975, the agency's Office of Advanced Systems (OAS) had issued a "Master Plan for the Development of the Future SSA Process." This called for a six-year effort--from July 1975 to June 1981--with four overlapping~phases. At the end of 1976, the GAS was completing Phase I, Conceptualization, and was beginning Phase II, Requirements Definition, when it asked the National Research Council to review its f^'m=H he Oh's Nnti anal Research Council conducted its General Accounting Office had recommended work. The panel ~~ ~ ~ ~ review through the third quarter of 1977. While the SSA clearly has an enormous data base, consisting of the records of some 240 million individuals, alive and dead, and some 1 trillion .' bytes °' or characters of information in its computers, it does not face an unprecedented problem for modern computer-communications technology. The panel reviewed the "fixed requirements" set by the OAS's master plan for the projected process and found most of these to be reasonable and beneficial. The panel took exception to the SSA fixed requirements the, the computer facilities be centralized at the SSA's headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, and that the new process not depend on new authorization or legislative action for any fundamental part of the design. The panel also suggested that the useful lifespan of 3
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4 the new system run through the end of the century rather than only to the end of the 1980's. The panel found it important for the SSA to design and implement a modular design, making use of the ever-increasing capabilities of minicomputers, microprocessors-, "intelligent" interactive terminals, and high capacity communications in a flexible, dynamic, distributed system concept. The cornerstone of the SSA system should be modularity, with the total process segmented into clearly separable subsystems possessing well defined interfaces. The communications subsystem could be designed and developed concurrently, for example, but relatively independent from the other parts of the system. The data base subsys- tem, which the panel recommends should be designed with an on-line capability, will require several basic decisions involving the total system, such as: How will the data base be organized physically? O How will it be organized functionally? In what sequence will portions of the data base be converted to the new system? In addition, the panel diverged from the concept of a centralized data base. It considered decentralization of the system as essential to help avoid breakdowns in service by providing for redundancy of equip- ment and records as well as to help assure adequate safeguards of security and confidentiality. The modular concept, the panel observed, enables the system to be designed with enough flexibility to adapt to or incorporate advances in technology as well as new requirements and responsibilities imposed upon the agency by the Congress or the Executive Branch. Another important advantage of this approach is that the system can be reasonably expected to fleet the requirements of the SSA through the rest of the century. The following are the panel's major conclusions and recommendations: No major breakthroughs in technology or techniques are considered necessary to design, develop, and implement the SSAts advanced new operational process. Custom-made components are not required because the system can be adequately served by today's advanced technology. Even if the new system consists of hardware now in general use, it can be designed for easy upgrading as more cost effective components are developed and proved. - The data base needs to be structured so that, after an initial period of operation in a centralized mode, it can be distributed geographically with sufficient redundancy to safeguard against a major failure or breakdown of the system. The on-line data base should be directly accessible by between 10,000 and 30,000 ter- ';.;. minals in the future system, many of them consisting of keyboards and video displays, at the central, regional, and local offices. . ::
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5 It also should be accessible to the dispersed computer system elements so that they can contribute to the system's functional modularity. . . The communications subsystem will serve a critical function in the total system. It should be a sophisticated and flexible subsystem that provides high transmission reliability, minimum cost, and ample equipment and operational adaptability. It should provide both long distance and local communications, in both packet-switched and line-switched modes to transmit information in a wide range of speeds. Because integrity of transmission is essential, the network should incorporate redun- dant pathways for circuit reliability and techniques for error detection. The communications subsystem should be designed so that it will have minimal effect on other functional parts of the entire system. Attention needs to be given in the subsystem to resolving such problems as terminal entry aids, screen for- mats, records editing, encryption, and decryption. The panel generally favors the concept of the communications subsystem being a "transparent conduit," thereby enabling communication to take place among a wide range of incompatible terminals and computers with differing protocols, formats, speeds, and codes. The cost of the communications subsystem is not a dominant factor in the complete system and should not bias any major considerations, such as regionalized data base storage. This subsystem can be adapted to any concept without a significant variation in cost, particularly in relation to the total cost of the projected SSA system. The transitional stage from the existing SSA process to the future one should be given high priority--certainly equivalent to the priority that is being given to the design of the future SSA process. One element in the transition involves the assurance of accuracy and authenticity of the social security number (SSN). This is essential to the successful inclusion of subsequent elements in the orderly transition to the new process. Thus, the panel recommends that enumeration, meaning the inclusion of the SSN, be made operational and stabilized prior to the initiation of other functional conversions. The communications network and terminals might be deployed and in operation prior to the initiation of the enumeration process, so that the district offices have access to both SSN identity information and earnings data, once those processes are converted. Distributed processing will probably be used to support the claims procedures and eventually the updating of SSN and earnings data. Therefore, the panel recommends that the distributed process be deployed just prior to conversion of the claims process. In addition, the panel recommends that the conversion first be completed within a single center, even if it
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_ 6 . . is later decided to deploy the system to regional centers for security reasons. Computer-based modeling techniques are deemed necessary by the panel to further the development of the whole system, as an aid to design, evaluation, management, and training. Some subsystems could profit from modeling, especially the operation of the data base under varying conditions, the flow of clients, inquiries, and other elements of the workload in field offices, and the functioning of the nationwide communication network under a range of traffic loads. · Consideration of human factors in the future process is vital because millions of individuals depend on the services of the SSA to assure their welfare. Because nearly everyone is involved with the social security system in one way or another, its disruption needs to be avoided. It is central to the concept, therefore, that human factors be in the mainstream of the system development. In addition, the panel recommends that, as a human factor applicable within the agency, early steps should be taken in the planning process to get an adequate training program unc er way. Respect for the rights of clients to confidentiality and security of information needs to be assured in the basic architecture and design of the future SSA process. There is no way to achieve an acceptable level of privacy and security by adding features or techniques after the design is completed. Safeguards to attain privacy and security of the data or access to the system include encryption/decryption, authentication, and key distribution methods. Special attention should be given to computer security techniques and operations security protocols, which are now evolving. In addition, the panel recommends that the future process have the capability for detailed audit trails of the use of records and data. Reliability, availability, and maintainability should be essen- tial objectives and, as such, need to be emphasized in all phases of system planning, design, testing, and evaluation. Development and implementation of the future SSA process should be in the hands of top management within the agency. Responsi- bility for the planning, development, and implementation of the process cannot be bestowed on or abdicated to a contractor. One major task for the top management is to organize a coherent and expert team. Other tasks include strengthening and utilizing in-house SSA knowledge and expertise, making good use of consult- ants, and contracting for support and equipment from companies in the computer, communications, and system architect-engineering fields. The entire program to modernize the process needs to be
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closely monitored and controlled by the SSA. The panel is sanguine about the inherent capability of computer and com- munications technology to support the future process. Yet, because of repeated examples of grossly mismanaged large-scale systems, the panel considers it essential that able people and a good management structure be mobilized to carry out this development with a maximum guarantee against schedule slippages, cost overruns, and transition problems. In most of its conclusions and recommendations, the panel has re-emphasized the SSA's own ideas and plans. Differences between the panel's conclusions about the system and the agency's 8' fixed require- ments" have 'been noted in the summary and the text following. The panel also has noted in the text that certain matters should receive higher priorities in the SSA's planning--notably the importance of commercially available equipment, privacy and security, and human factors.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: