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Chairman Johnson Opening Statement at Hearing on Modernizing Social Security’s IT Infrastructure

July 14, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) delivered the following opening statement at today’s Social Security Subcommittee Hearing on Modernizing Social Security’s Information Technology Infrastructure.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:  

“Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing on modernizing Social Security’s Information Technology infrastructure.

“From seniors receiving Social Security benefits to young parents whose infant needs a Social Security Number, Social Security’s IT infrastructure touches the lives of nearly every American. Hundreds of computer programs, thousands of servers, and millions of lines of computer code make up Social Security’s IT.

“But even though its so important, Social Security’s IT is hasn’t kept up with advances in technology.  

“Today when smart phones are common, Social Security still relies on computer code so outdated they don’t even teach it in classrooms. So Social Security has to spend time and resources training workers in ancient computer languages like COBOL or rehire retirees to update its programs because they are the only ones who know how.

“Social Security has new hardware – new computers and new data centers – but their software is out of date and hasn’t been updated in years.

“Looking at a computer in a Social Security field office, you might think you had been transported back to the 1980s. Social Security still has many ‘green screen’ programs. For those of you who may not remember, an example of a green screen is on the TVs. I can’t tell you the last time I saw one of those. And as we will hear today this old technology makes it difficult to keep younger workers who grew up using lots of technology.    

“And worse, there is a true cost to this old technology because it takes Social Security employees longer than it should to do a simple task. That’s time that can’t be spent helping another claimant, processing earnings information of Disability Insurance beneficiary, or answering the phone.

“We will hear today Social Security’s employees lose 20 minutes each day due to technology problems. With an agency as large as Social Security, this adds up quickly. This wasted time costs Social Security nearly $200 million each year.  

“For years, I have been sounding the alarm on the state of Social Security’s outdated and aging IT. And the good news is Social Security has finally recognized it has a big problem. In this year’s President’s Budget, Social Security admitted the patchwork approach isn’t working and its time to overhaul the entire system.

“Today we will learn how Social Security plans to take on this massive project.

“It won’t be easy but Social Security has to get it right. The American people expect nothing less.

“But we will also hear today that Social Security’s track record isn’t always good when it comes to IT. Social Security has been trying for years to develop the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS), a single piece of software that will be used by State employees when deciding disability cases. The experience with the DCPS has been rough for taxpayers and doesn’t inspire all that much confidence. While it seems the project may be getting on track, you can’t just ignore $300 million in taxpayer dollars spent on a failed approach before Social Security decided to just start over.

“Yet Social Security had no problem asking for $300 million to redo its entire IT system without also sharing a plan for how it was going to get it done. The same amount that they spent on DCPS with nothing to show for it. The American people have the right to be skeptical. Trust is something that is earned. And it’s earned by plans that can be followed, staying within a budget and getting the job done on time if not early. 

“Make no mistake, Social Security must modernize its IT infrastructure but they have to do it responsibly. This cannot be some runaway project with costs spiraling out of control, or a few years from now started over from scratch after spending hundreds of millions of dollars. Social Security has to get this right, the first time.”