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Answer. Our renewed Agency Strategic Plan (ASP) which represents the highest level of the comprehensive Agency-wide planning process should be available by summer. The ASP will contain a long-range vision of how SSA will look and operate in the future--a strategic planning framework which lays out our service goals and objectives and the broad transition events that will need to take place to move us toward our vision. Subsequent lowerlevel planning activities, including an information systems plan, will be completed following publication of the ASP. These more detailed planning activities will focus on the nearer term, approximately the next 5 to 6 years.
Answer. The costs of systems investments in support of the ASP will be addressed the more detailed planning being completed for the near-term period of the next 5-6 years.
When will the agency strategic systems plan be
Answer. The initial version of SSA's information systems plan (ISP), which describes SSA's major automated systems efforts through FY 1997, will be published by this spring. Once final Agency strategic decisions have been made and the ASP is published, the ISP will be updated. The updated ISP will show how SSA will move during the next 6 years towards achieving the systems environment necessary to support the vision in the ASP.
The updated ISP should be available during July 1991.
INFORMATION RESOURCES MANAGER
Question. Another key factor in improving efficiency and, hence, service is better integration of all the technology-oriented functions namely ADP, telecommunications, software development, data administration, and data base management. To accomplish this, SSA needs an information resources manager, with the responsibility and authority for setting policy and coordinating agency-wide activities relating to information resources.
Has an information resources manager been appointed?
Answer. HHS requires that the agency principal information resources manager (IRM) be an individual who reports directly to the head of the Agency. The Senior Executive Officer fulfills this role in SSA. The Senior Executive Officer is assisted by the Office of Information Resources Management, which has a staff of 11, headed by a Senior Executive Service official.
The director of the Office of Information Resources Management provides leadership in defining the IRM policy and program for SSA, ensuring compliance with Federal law and the policies of OMB, GSA and HHS, producing the annual IRM plan, and oversight of the IRM review program. Support for the Agency's IRM program also comes from the Deputy Commissioner for Systems who is responsible for the information systems and technology applications in ssa, from the Information Technology Systems Review Staff, located in the office
of Finance, Assessment and Management, as well as from other staffs responsible for publications and forms management, security, research and other IRM-related activities,
Where is this position organizationally located?
Answer. The Senior Executive Officer is in the Office of the Commissioner, and the Office of Information Resources Management is also part of the Office of the Commissioner.
Question. Is this official in a position of sufficient authority to force compliance with agency-wide IRM goals and objectives?
Question. Does this individual have other responsibilities unrelated to his information resources responsibilities, and if so, is this appropriate given the leadership and direction needed to protect SSA's growing investment in information resources which are essential to the successful accomplishment of its mission?
Answer. The Senior Executive Officer does have other responsibilities. Day-to-day responsibility for the IRM function belongs to the Office of Information Resources Management, which also provides advice and counsel to the Senior Executive Officer and to me, as well as to other Agency officials.
The office also takes the lead on selected Agency-level initiatives, work groups and projects. However, this activity draws upon the role, knowledge and experience gained in carrying out the IRM function. These are complementary, rather than contending, activities.
Has SSA automated any new workloads in the last
Answer. The automatic enrollment for the direct deposit of benefits is currently underway. This was previously a manual workload. It is presently in the pilot stage and involves 30 financial institutions.
Release 9.0 of Debt Management provided for the automatic generation of receipts for all remittances. This was previously a manual workload.
In April 1990, the correction and reinstatement of the earnings suspense file was made available for automatic processing. This reduced the timeframe for correction and reinstatement from 3 to 6 months to 1 to 2 weeks.
The Claims Modernization Release 2.6 in July 1990 enabled field office personnel for the first time to Interface directly with the Master Beneficiary Record to input changes of address, non-receipt of a benefit check, correction of name, and reports of marriage or divorce.
SSA has now automated many of its labor-intensive operations. Many current systems initiatives are enhancements to workloads previously automated or development of entirely new systems such as the representative payee database mandated by the Congress.
Question. the next year?
What are your plans for your computer system for
Answer. Computer hardware improvement plans include investments in completing migration to FTS 2000; additional computer capacity and data storage capacity to accommodate both existing automation workload growth and new workload automation; increased printer capacity to improve beneficiary notice quality and timeliness; continued automation and communication improvements for the hearings process; and continued feasibility and transition planning for cost-effective backup and recovery capability.
Question. How do these plans match with your agency's operational and financial management needs on a priority basis?
Answer. These plans are consistent with SSA's planning process which integrates all key levels of Agency planning including (1) the Agency Strategic Plan (ASP) which gives longrange strategic direction to supporting shorter term plans, (2) the SSA Information Resources Management (IRM) Plan which defines the long-range resources and activities necessary to carry out all of SSA's information management activities (automated as well as nonautomated) in support of the ASP and (3) the SSA Information Systems Plan which supports the ASP and IRM plans, new legislative requirements, user initiatives and ongoing systems operations. The specific initiatives mentioned above are included in these planning documents and their priority in budget requests reflects the Agency priorities defined in these plans.
Question. What do your field staff believe are the most needed systems advances to help them meet future workloads?
Answer. The SSA field staff believe that the most needed systems advances are ones which allow all employees to access any required data base, master file or national system and to perform local tasks from the same workstation with access to laser printers. Contention for physical access to computer systems would be eliminated and employees could perform the full computer related functions of their jobs from a single location. They are also interested in technological innovations which would reduce the time required by a paper intensive process--examples would be technologies for the storage and retrieval of Agency procedures and expanded fax capability for improved communications.
In general, the field staff want access to hardware and software that allows completion of any customer request with a minimum of call backs, subsequent actions or referrals to other offices to respond to concerns. We are doing many things in response to their needs. Major systems software initiatives are underway, including refinements in the title II claims-taking and adjudication process and the postentitlement online systems. The systems communications, query and input facilities are being
updated and a comprehensive debt management system is being provided.
The modernization of the Supplemental Security Income processes is a major project. SSA is also continuing its automation of its earnings input, adjustment and correction processes. National "800" number-related software is coming online to allow the scheduling of field office appointments through the teleservice centers and to permit the teleservice center representatives to access a national referral directory of other-agency services.
Question. In regard to back-up systems (a) what method does SSA currently use to back-up its most critical data bases for making program payments and serving the public? and (b) how much does this back-up system cost annually?
Answer. SSA creates regular back-up copies of our critical programmatic data bases and production software libraries and sends them for storage in our security storage facility.
SSA has a contract to provide back-up batch processing capabilities. In case of an emergency, the back-up copies of the data bases and software libraries would be used at the vendor's site to provide batch programmatic processing capabilities. The contract costs $78,000 annually.
Question. Each year ssa posts hundreds of millions of dollars of wages into its suspense account because it cannot identify the correct wage earner's account for posting. What is SSA doing to reduce the number and amount of wages it cannot post to individual accounts each year? Can IRS help in this regard? In what way?
Answer. SSA has emphasized in a variety of public information and employer educational materials the importance of employers providing their employees' correct Social Security numbers on wage reports to SSA. Public information messages have urged employees to correct any Social Security cards bearing an incorrect name or number. In addition, SSA has appointed a special "Intercomponent Workgroup on Reducing the Earnings Suspense File." This workgroup has just completed a report making several suggestions that will substantially reduce the number of items being placed in the earnings suspense file. These include identifying "problem" employers who file many wage reports with incorrect numbers so they can be provided special assistance to improve their reporting. Another action planned is to pilot the effectiveness of having SSA validate employees' numbers for the payroll of selected employers before they prepare and submit wage reports to SSA. This will allow employers time to correct any erroneous numbers before any wage reports are prepared for the next year.
IRS can help SSA reduce the number of unposted wages in several ways.
IRS has already agreed to supply taxpayer identification data from its files for SSA to use in identifying unposted wage reports. In addition, SSA has asked, and IRS has
agreed to enforce current penalties for filing incorrect wage reports in those cases where employers are uncooperative in reducing large numbers of wage reports with incorrect Social Security numbers. SSA will be exploring other ways IRS can help as well--for example, by revising IRS forms and procedures to emphasize the importance of proper reporting.
"800" BUSY RATES
Question. On October 1, 1989, SSA began implementing phase 2 of its national "800" phone service. The very high rate of busy signals experienced by the "800" service necessitated ssa having about 350 local field offices restore their phone service on a temporary basis to relieve the overtaxed "800" service. What immediate steps has SSA taken to bring down the higher rate of busy signals that have been experienced during fiscal year 1991?
Answer. Our immediate efforts to address the high busy rates have been concentrated on increasing call answering capacity, speeding the handling of certain routine calls through the use of an automated script and improving call routing.
Between the months of September and November 1990, 300 teleservice representatives (TSRs) were hired. The new TSRs have been trained and are now answering calls. We have also increased the number of people used as needed to staff backup answering units to provide additional call answering capacity during peak calling periods. Prior to January, we had about 300 technicians staffing two backup answering units. At the beginning of January, we added three units with a total of approximately 300 more technicians. By June, we will add a fourth unit with another 100 technicians.
We are currently using an automated script in seven teleservice centers (TSCs) to speed the processing of certain types of routine calls. Callers with push button phones can choose to have simple actions or requests processed without waiting to talk to a TSR. The automated services include, for example, requests for Social Security numbers, monthly benefit amount verification and requests for pamphlets. Approximately 10 percent of the callers that have access to this service use it. Their calls are handled quickly with no recontact necessary.
The faster automated handling of these actions allows more calls to be handled which in turn helps to reduce the busy rates.
In January, we also implemented a revised call routing plan which directs calls as close as possible to the area from which they originated. With this more sophisticated plan in effect, we can also better direct calls to locations where representatives are available to serve the public.
SSA TELEPHONE SERVICE
Question. Are you taking any actions of a permanent nature to attempt to curb the high rate of busy signals for the "800" service in the future?
Answer. We continually evaluate ways to improve the "800" number service, Technological initiatives are evaluated and utilized, improved call routing techniques are implemented and