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1998-05-12 08:44:17


Social Security: Beware the Hype



Joel Willemssen is the y2k specialist for the General Accounting Office, the watchdog agency of the House of Representatives. On May 7, he testified to the House Ways & Means Committee. He did not confirm the Social Security Administration's claims of 90% completion, which are valid (if at all) only be re-defining the state-administered elegibility program as not being mission-critical to the SSA. That charade of re-definition is what allows the SSA to claim 90% completion rather than 50% or less.

He also warned that the SSA's computers are at risk from data imported from noncompliant computers. This warning is generic. It is the heart of the y2k problem. This is why the y2k problem is systemic. It cannot be fixed. To fix anything, you must fix everything. Nobody says in public (except me) that y2k cannot be fixed for this reason. But nobody replies to me with evidence that this problem can be overcome without quarantining every noncompliant system, i.e., without thereby destroying every interrelated system, from banking to government to electrical power transmission.

* * * * * * *

Three key risks remained, however, as discussed in our report of last October and testimony of this past March. One major risk concerned Year 2000 compliance of the 54 state Disability Determination Services (DDS) that provide vital support to the agency in administering SSA's disability programs. The second major risk concerned data exchanges, ensuring that information obtained from these thousands of outside sources--such as other federal agencies, state agencies, and private businesses -- was not "corrupted" by data being passed from systems not Year 2000 compliant. Third, such risks were compounded by the lack of contingency plans to ensure business continuity in the event of systems failure.

We recommended several specific actions to mitigate these risks. These included (1) strengthening monitoring and oversight of state DDS Year 2000 activities, (2) expeditiously completing the assessment of mission-critical systems at DDS offices and using those results to establish specific plans of action, (3) discussing the status of DDS Year 2000 activities in SSA's quarterly reports to OMB, (4) quickly completing SSA's Year 2000 compliance coordination with all data exchange partners, and (5) developing specific contingency plans that articulate clear strategies for ensuring the continuity of core business functions. . . .


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