Taxpayers expect that when they spend almost $300 million on a project, they should receive something in return. The project of upgrading the Social Security Administration's computer system used for processing Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) applications has used close to $300 million and six years and is still not complete.
The need for the system improvements is clear. The numbers of applications for SSDI have increased in the last decade. This has caused delays to remain or increase and most applicants can expect to wait up to 100 days for the processing on their initial application. If they are denied, and must appeal to an administrative law judge, the wait can increase to 400 days.
The SSA understands the frustration many disabled workers feel at the delays and began this program six years ago to improve the processing of these claims. The system that needed to be upgraded is highly complex and is far different from merely buying new software and installing it.
The disability determinations for SSDI are performed in state Disability Determination Services offices. There are 54 such offices and before this project, the all apparently used somewhat different systems.
In addition, the SSDI application process is very complex and all of these parts must work together, and do so more or less flawlessly. That is a difficult and the private contractor responsible for the work, Lockheed Martin, has had problems.
A report critiquing the project found it also lacked sufficient coordination on the part of the SSA, where the project failed to have a single person with overall responsibility.
The SSA has promised to use the report to make improvements, but as the initial roll out of the Affordable Health Care Act showed, large IT implementations never simple, and the SSA's project will take additional money and some time to complete.
Source: CBSNews.com, "Social Security IT project cost $300M and it doesn't work," Associate Press, July 24, 2014