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CHAPTER I The Proposed SSA Process Since 1935, when the national system of old-age, survivor, unemployment, and disability insurance was established under the Social Security Act, the responsibilities, operations, and significance of the Social Security Administration (SSA) have grown enormously. Today, in addition to the early programs, the SSA's responsibilities include income mainten- ance, health care, and child care. Indeed, just about everyone in the United States is a current or potential beneficiary of one or more of the major social welfare programs operated by the SSA. Not surprisingly, the cost and complexity of the SSA programs have risen rapidly--twice as fast in the past 25 years as the increase in the gross national product. By 1975 about nine out of every ten persons at the age of 65 or over were receiving social security benefits, as compared with fewer than two out of ten in 1950. During the same period, the beneficiaries under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) have increased from 3.4 percent of all children below 18 years of age in 1950 to 11.9 percent in 1975. In 1976, the SSA disbursed a total of $83 billion through monthly benefit payments to 37 million Americans. The SSA now maintains some 240 million records on individuals or "clients"--each person, alive or dead, who retains an active social security number (SSN). To handle the burgeoning workload over the past 25 years, the SSA has been adding employees and computers incrementally, largely on an ad hoc basis. Of the 86,000 SSA employees, some 25,500 are at the headquarters complex in Baltimore, Maryland, another 13,500 in six regional centers, 41,000 in 1,300 permanent and 3,400 part-time local offices, and 6,000 in appeals processing and data input. Another 9,000 employees of 54 states and territories help determine disability claims. The main SSA computer complex, located at the Baltimore headquar- ters, consists of several program-oriented computer systems, comprising 21 large computers and many smaller ones. The several computer systems are mainly of the tape-oriented batch variety, executing a series of separate programs; each set of programs has its own data. Client files at the Baltimore headquarters require more than 437,000 reels of magnetic tape. There are no electronic interconnections among most of the SSA data bases. Consequently, communication among the systems involves the 9
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10 time-consuming manual transfer of tapes. The large-scale use of hard copy and microfilm results in an operation that is slow and labor- intensive. The SSA data systems have been a patchwork of advanced and some older computer equipment. Moreover, some installations are interconnected with a relatively sophisticated communications system, while others have relatively inefficient communications. The SSA operation has been characterized by insufficient system planning and integration to make maximum use of its own information system capa- bilities. The need for improving and modernizing the operations of the SSA became apparent in the early 1970's. In April 1974, in response to questions from members of Congress about the promptness and responsive- ness of SSA functions, the General Accounting Office issued a report recommending that the agency should establish a unit to design, develop, and implement a new information processing system that takes full advantage of the capabilities of advanced computer-communications technology. In late December 1974, President Ford directed the agency to use the best possible automatic data processing techniques to improve its operation. In April- 1975, the Commissioner of the SSA established the Office of Advanced Systems (OAS) in Baltimore to prepare a long-range plan for a new system. In June 1975, the GAS issued its preliminary "Master Plan for the Development of the Future SSA Process," which characterizes the problem in this way: The Social Security Administration is faced with the need to redefine its processes if it is to cope with ever- increasing workloads. Through the years, as new programs and new responsibilities have been assigned to it, SSA has improvised and patched in an effort to continue to be responsive to legislative mandates and the public's needs. Today the SSA process incorporates both highly sophisticated electronic data processing equipment and antiquated manual procedures. The not unexpected result of this ad hoc approach is a system which in many of its aspects is unwieldy, uneven in quality, and increasingly vulnerable to breakdown. Conventional methods of dealing with the problem-- infusion of more personnel and more machines--are becoming increasingly questionable in terms of their cost-effective- ness and in terms of [the] capacity and willingness to provide manpower and other resources of the magnitude that will be required. Projections indicate that staff require- ments to handle the expanding workload will continue to grow to higher and higher levels unless the basic SSA process is modernized. The law of diminishing returns is now very much a factor. The master plan went on to examine the existing SSA process and to describe the goal of the effort:
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program: 11 To design and develop a process which will serve the SSA through the 1980's and which will maximize efficiency, curtail constantly increasing personnel requirements and administrative costs9 improve service to the public, and maximize the utilization of the most advanced technology. The plan calls for four overlapping phases of the total modernizing I Conceptualization (completed April 1977), II Requirements Definition (April 1977 - October 1979), III Detailed System Design and Development (October 1978 - 1983), and IV Test, Validation and Implementation (last 51 months of the project, 1981 - 1984~. g The GAS also listed a number of ~' fixed requirements" that were used in developing its plan. The future SSA process, according to the master plan' must: · meet at least the current service levels; . not plan for new facilities requiring new Congressional funding approval; not depend on new authorization or legislative action for any fundamental part of the design; . provide continued opportunities for personal contact when preferred by the client; ~ o plan the basic design around a central computer configuration at the Baltimore headquarters with regional or local computers or other automated activity confined to support, prepa- ration, or input functions; result in net reduction of the workforce below that projected for the present proces s; a seek non-labor intensive solutions; build in safeguards to assure confidentiality and privacy of client information; provide for audit trails;
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12 use the social security number (SSN) as the basic reference number; provide for SSN enumeration based on existing policy and practice; o require a signature for initial eligibility; provide for direct source data entry; use the present federal/state arrangements [Qua disability determination; 0 design the system around proven technology; and ~ validate the process before implementing. The panel has reviewed the requirements and found most of them to be reasonable and beneficial to the projected process. In the following chapters it will be clear that the panel differs with the GAS require- ments that the main computer facilities be concentrated at the SSA headquarters in Baltimore, and that the future process be limited to existing Congressional authorization or legislative actions. The panel also expresses the opinion that the useful life of the proposed system should be planned through the end of this century Bather than through the next decade.
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