SSA chief says 100-MHz systems can handle job

The Social Security Administration commissioner insists that PCs with 100-MHz
processors will meet the agency's requirements into the next century.


"It would be a waste of taxpayers' money to go with more expensive
computers," SSA Commissioner Kenneth S. Apfel said in response to a question from
Rep. Kenny C. Hulshof (R-Mo.) at a joint hearing this month of the House Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Human Resources and its Subcommittee on Social Security.


Apfel began his post as commissioner in September, 2 1/2 years after Congress spun SSA
off as an independent agency.


Although Hulshof acknowledged he did not know a lot about computers, he said he was
aware that stores no longer sell PCs with 100-MHz processors.


Apfel's answer drew the subcommittees' attention away from the lack of a technical
refreshment clause in the Intelligent Workstation/LAN contract that would have kept SSA's
PCs up to speed [GCN, March 16, Page 1].


Through IWS/LAN, the agency is rolling out LANs and PCs to users at SSA field offices.
Previously, SSA field staff relied on dumb terminals linked to mainframe systems at
headquarters.


"It is my belief that [100-MHz processors] are the exact right kind," Apfel
told the members.


IWS/LAN contractor Unisys Corp. is installing PCs from Win Laboratories Ltd. of
Manassas, Va. They have 100-MHz Pentium chips, 32M of RAM and 1.2G hard drives that
"will handle our needs for the next several years" with only cheap upgrades,
Apfel said.


Subcommittee members, according to an industry source, now plan to write to Apfel
demanding that the agency do more to upgrade its desktop PC technology.


The commissioner also testified that 88 percent of SSA's mission-critical systems are
year 2000-ready. The date code work will likely be finished by the end of December so the
agency can spend next year testing systems, Apfel said.


A General Accounting Office official said SSA officials had acknowledged some earlier
products acquired through IWS/LAN were not 2000-ready.


The IWS/LAN contract does not require products to be 2000-ready, according to the
written testimony of Joel C. Willemssen, director of civilian information systems in the
GAO's Accounting and Information Management Division.


But the contract's standard operating system, Microsoft Windows NT, should correct any
two-digit date glitches, and SSA officials are testing all new hardware and software
proposed by Unisys to ensure readiness before installation, Willemssen said.


Another year 2000 issue that SSA faces, according to GAO, is a lack of contingency
plans for systems failures caused by data corrupted in exchanges with other government
organizations and businesses.


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