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Johnson Opening Statement for Hearing on Disability Backlog

March 24, 2009


Thank you and congratulations Mr. Chairman.  I look forward to the good work we will accomplish together.

I also want to welcome our new members and our colleagues from the Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee. 

We all share a real concern about the delays our constituents facewhen they visit or contact a local Social Security office, call the 800number or wait over 16 months for a decision on their disability appealbefore an administrative law judge. 

At the same time, efforts to address program waste, fraud and abusehave been curtailed, costing billions in improper payments whilereducing taxpayer confidence that their hard-earned payroll tax dollarswill provide the services they paid for and deserve.

This Committee has worked on a bipartisan basis to obtain neededfunding for the Social Security Administration.  In the last two yearsCongress sent an additional $275 million to the agency above thePresident’s request. 

In the economic stimulus package, Social Security received anadditional $1 billion for a new computer center and to help process thegrowing number of applications for retirement and disability benefits.

Now the Agency must step up and account for how this money will translate into real results.   

In the short-term, Social Security must answer their phones, reducewait times for people in local Social Security offices, and tell peoplesooner whether their application for Social Security benefits has beengranted or denied – at all levels in the process.

Whether Social Security can get the job done depends in large parton their having state-of-the-art computers driven by the latest, provensoftware. 

Far from state-of-the-art, Social Security’s main computer systems are stuck in the past.  

Social Security’s main database still operates using 1950’stechnology, including COBOL programming language.  Social Security isworking to replace this language but that project won’t be done until2014. 

Last year we learned the Agency’s 30-year old Computer Center will be unable to carry its load after 2012. 

In the meantime, a second data center has been built in Durham,North Carolina to run some of the Agency’s daily work and totemporarily step in to keep basic operations running if needed. 

However, Durham will not be fully operational until 2012 and may not be able to cover all the Agency’s computing needs.  

At the same time, Social Security now faces the difficult task ofpurchasing a new computer center using the $500 million they justreceived.

Going forward, Social Security cannot get this wrong.  So I want theCommissioner to tell us his plan for maintaining agency computeroperations while finishing the Durham Data Center and building the newcomputer center. 

I thank our witnesses for being here today and look forward to hearing their testimony.