SSA boosts its citizen connections

SSA boosts its citizen connections<@VM>Major Projects

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Who's in charge

D. Dean Mesterharm

Acting CIO, and Deputy CIO

William Gray

Deputy Commissioner, Systems

Linda S. McMahon

Deputy Commissioner, Operations

Kelly Croft

Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Systems

James A. Kissko

Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Operations

Sara Hamer

Associate Commissioner, Office of Electronic Services

Charles M. Wood

Associate Commissioner, Office of Systems Design and Development

Marsha R. Rydstrom

Associate Commissioner, Office of Systems Electronic Services

Top contractors


Computer Sciences Corp.$143.3
TRW Inc.$125.7
Unisys Corp.$106.6
Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc.$103.5
Northrop Grumman Corp. $77.3
IBM Corp.$53.9
The Presidio Corp. $50.5
ITS Services Inc. $41.8
PlanetGov Inc. $38.7
Motorola Inc. $33.2

IT spending will rise sharply

Sources for Inside SSA include the Social Security Administration and Input of Chantilly, Va.

Social Security systems officials, clockwise from top left, Steve A. Kautsch, Thomas G. Grzymski, Sara Hamer, Charles M. Wood and Gina M. Kotowski are working on a number of e-gov projects.

While the Social Security Administration waits for the Office of Management and Budget's OK on one major IT project, others are moving forward and gaining momentum.

The e-Vital program is one of OMB's 23 e-government initiatives that make up the Bush administration's plan to use technology to better connect with citizens during the next two years. SSA is awaiting feedback on its plans for e-Vital from OMB, which could prompt the agency to change some details.

E-Vital will use a data interchange protocol to let federal agencies and states share information such as birth and death records.

The program will reduce processing time, costs and incidents of fraud, said Sara Hamer, associate commissioner for electronic services.

'The bottom line is better service to users,' she said.

SSA is aggressively pursuing other online applications as well.

It has added direct deposit transactions to its Web site, at Users can start or change service for having their Social Security benefits placed electronically into a checking, savings or investment account.

'That's been fairly well-received,' Hamer said, adding that 36,000 users have signed up for the application since its launch in February.

Recipients of Social Security disability, retirement and survivor benefits also can now use the Web site to notify the administration of a change of address or telephone number.

The check is in the mail

By summer, the agency will have added a feature to let users find out when they are likely to receive a check.

SSA will also redesign its Web site this summer to improve navigation and present a consistent look and feel to the site.

'We are taking into consideration feedback from the customers for the new site,' said Steve A. Kautsch, acting associate commissioner for systems electronic services. 'Browser technology has improved, so we just need to take advantage of that.'

SSA is also in the second phase of testing systems that combine computers and telephony. The agency, which handles 60 million telephone calls a year, wants to improve its call centers and test ways to boost security.

'We looked at the telephone and Internet technology and how they were beginning to converge,' Hamer said. 'We also looked at other agencies to see what technologies they were using.'

In 2000, the agency completed the first phase of the program. SSA worked with Commerce.Net, a nonprofit consortium of e-commerce companies, testing four prototype systems that used Internet chat, e-mail, customer call-back, customer history tracking and voice over IP.

In Phase 2, the agency is testing the applications in a secure environment.

The agency has faced criticism over how slowly it processes names in its Death Master File. The database holds information about 67 million citizens, such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth and death, and ZIP codes.

SSA collects the information from many sources and prepares a monthly update of deaths and changes to the master file.

An investigation by the House Financial Services Committee revealed that, via the database, SSA takes as long as six weeks to notify financial institutions and credit bureaus of deaths, during which time the identities of deceased individuals are vulnerable to theft.

SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle declined to comment on technological changes being made to the Death Master File but said the agency will be able to send weekly death information by February.
'We are waiting for our counterparts to get ready to accept that,' he said.
  • e-Vital. One of the 23 e-government initiatives approved by the Office of Management and Budget, the project will be a data interchange protocol to let federal agencies and states share information, such as birth and death records. The program is intended to reduce processing time, costs and incidents of fraud.

  • Title II redesign. The agency uses 28 legacy systems to process 133 million transactions every year, such as changes of address, death notices, suspension of benefits and returned checks.

    SSA is integrating the systems in-house and plans to implement improvements gradually. The effort will increase the automation rate from less than 93 percent to 95 percent in two years.

  • Paperless processing by 2003. SSA in 1999 began to make paper-intensive processes at its six program service centers and the Baltimore operations center paperless.

    The service centers now use a document imaging and workflow system that has eliminated nearly all paperwork. The offices cut almost 700 clerical positions and moved the personnel to handle other jobs within the agency. SSA will implement a document imaging and workflow system in the Baltimore center by 2003.

  • Desktop refreshment. In January 2001, SSA replaced 41,000 computers with Dell OptiPlex 733-MHz Pentium III PCs. This year, it will replace 32,000 more with Compaq Deskpro EN 933-MHz Pentium III PCs.
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