SSA invests in capacity to handle impending data flood

The Social Security Administration is bracing for massive increases in electronic data that will tax its mainframe capacity with the implementation of the new Medicare drug benefit plan and the retirement of the baby boomers.

At the same time, Social Security continues to push out its electronic disability system.

Social Security and the states will process applications and eligibility for assistance for seniors to pay for the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, set to start Jan. 1, 2006. Social Security has budgeted $61.3 million for fiscal 2006 to develop electronic processes to support the Medicare modernization.

'We're writing the software, building the infrastructure and working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to understand the business processes and policy, and execute that against the prescription drug requirements. They're huge and evolving as we speak,' said Social Security Administration CIO Tom Hughes on Friday at an industry breakfast sponsored by Input of Reston, Va.

Social Security employs six IBM z/990 mainframes, whose capacity will increase to 20,685 MIPS by October from 14,097 MIPS. Direct Access Storage Devices (DASD) amount to 219 terabytes and growing among its Hitachi data systems for mainframes, EMC for open systems and fiber-based storage area network.

Enterprise architecture is very important for capacity planning. 'You want to look at that every six months. It's an evolving picture as you're moving down the road,' Hughes said.

Social Security's goal for the electronic disability system is to migrate beneficiaries from applying at 1,500 field offices to the Internet. Although the electronic disability system is in place in all 50 states, advanced components are still in process.

Currently, Social Security has a capability of capturing up to 1.8 million images daily as part of building applicants' electronic medical folders. 'We have to be able to flash this to a doctor, lawyer, judge, recipient, third party, medical institution or insurance company,' Hughes said, when cases are appealed and with the beneficiary's permission where required. Social Security is investing in an automated input system, electronic repository for all documents, case processing for hearings and appeals, and integration with state disability systems.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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