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1998-01-06 20:06:42


Sen. Grassley Warns Social Security: No Contingency Plans


U. S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has warned the Social Security Administration that it is not moving fast enough on y2k.

Social Security replied, in time-honored bureaucrtatic fashion, that it's doing the best it can.

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Date:12/18/97 9:16 AM

Washington, D.C. -- Seeking accountability from the federal government agency that touches the lives of the more than 50 million Americans who rely upon its programs, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa (R) today released a letter he sent to Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Kenneth Apfel regarding the integrity of the information provided by agency officials to government investigators and the public regarding the readiness of the SSA computer system for the Year 2000.

"The Social Security Administration needs to get a grip on its efforts to be ready to handle computer system problems that could arise when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2000. While the agency took a step forward last month to address this problem, it also took two steps backward," Grassley said. "I will continue to keep a very close eye on the agency's effort to be Year 2000 compliant. While the SSA leads the pack compared to other federal agencies and during the last month said it was enhancing its efforts to meet the deadline, the only measurement that will matter when the date rolls over is whether or not all systems are `go.' It's a pass or fail test. And millions of Americans could be impacted by SSA's performance."

Specifically, Grassley revealed in his letter that one or more SSA officials in the Office of Systems failed to cooperate fully and completely with evaluators from the General Accounting Office (GAO) during a recent review of the contingency plans in place at the SSA for the Year 2000 program. The SSA told the GAO that it had "started work on that plan [a formal contingency plan for our Year 2000 program]," However, according to the GAO, "when we requested copies of the contingency plans, they [SSA] acknowledged that this planning had not been documented." Grassley said this was neither an acceptable, accurate nor complete response to the GAO evaluators. "Just as lawyers say about a verbal contract, an undocumented contingency plan is only as good as the paper on which it's written," he said.

Grassley urged Apfel to take immediate action to create an atmosphere where these types of actions are neither accepted nor encouraged. "I feel very confident that you would never condone one or more SSA employees providing inaccurate or incomplete information to the GAO. I relay this information to you so that you have a full understanding of the situation and can take any action you deem necessary and proper," Grassley wrote. The Iowa senator uncovered this incident during oversight work he conducted as Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Grassley's December 16 letter to Apfel also questioned why the most recent report regarding SSA Year 2000 compliance efforts included information based upon other reports which SSA acknowledged, in response to earlier questioning by Grassley, were incomplete and in need of modification. "SSA needs to concede the reality of its Year 2000 compliance program in order to meet the challenge and clear this hurdle without substantial glitches that could negatively impact millions of Americans," Grassley said. "I urge Commissioner Apfel to send a clear signal to every SSA official that all efforts to be ready for the Year 2000 -- those that succeed and those that fail -- be presented in a forthright manner. Attempts to inaccurately portray the work of the compliance program cannot be tolerated."

Grassley unveiled his review of the Year 2000 compliance program at the SSA earlier this fall, when he released a GAO report detailing key risks that remain and urged the President to set a responsive tone for the administration. In its report, the GAO said: Unless timely corrective action is taken the Social Security Administration (SSA), like other federal agencies, could face critical computer system failures at the turn of the century due to incorrect information processing relating to dates. Grassley said three specific areas of concern were outlined in November by the GAO:

1) The state Disability Determination Services have not been assessed for Year 2000 problems. These agencies serve as the gatekeepers for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. Disruptions could prevent or delay assistance to millions of individuals.

2) The SSA data exchange partners, who provide data such as the wage and tax information needed to determine proper benefits, may not be Year 2000 compliant. The SSA exchanges data files with hundreds of federal and state agencies and thousands of private businesses. If the data exchange partners are not Year 2000 compliant, new applicants for any SSA program could be at risk.

3) There is a complete lack of a contingency strategy at the SSA. Contingency plans are vital to Year 2000 risk management. They allow an organization to ensure the continuation of core business practices if corrective work is not completed or an unforeseen problem occurs. With no backup plans, any current or potential beneficiary is at risk if the system their benefits depends on doesn't work properly.

According to Apfel, the SSA is making steady progress in addressing these three problem areas and will periodically update Grassley on its continued efforts.

In addition, Grassley responded aggressively earlier this month to a financial statement audit which revealed internal control weaknesses at the SSA which jeopardize the privacy of personal information. Grassley asked Apfel to re-evaluate the agency's initial dismissal of the evaluation. Within the same week of Grassley's request, Apfel wrote to Grassley that SSA would be reviewing the issues raised in the audit.

In 1997, 6.6 million people nationwide received SSI benefits; 6.1 million received Social Security disability insurance benefits; and, 37.8 million people received Social Security retirement benefits. In 1996, 41,950 Iowans received SSI benefits; 42,500 Iowans received Social Security disability insurance benefits; and, 342,480 Iowans received retirement benefits from Social Security. Grassley was elected Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging in January 1997.

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