Friday, July 25, 2014

Our Tax Dollars At Work

In a previous life I made a pretty good living managing the design and implementation of large-scale information systems. Several of my projects were multi-year multi-million dollar systems for a large international financial corporation. That's why I was so interested in this story.

Social Security Spent $300M on 'IT Boondoggle'
Six years ago the Social Security Administration embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a growing flood of disability claims. Nearly $300 million later, the new system is nowhere near ready and agency officials are struggling to salvage a project racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an internal report commissioned by the agency.
I'm also interested in the story because I'm getting close to the age where I can start drawing Social Security (assuming, of course, that it doesn't run out of money before then).
In 2008, Social Security said the project was about two to three years from completion. Five years later, it was still two to three years from being done, according to the report by McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm.
We had several projects go over-schedule and over-budget. But none of them missed their mark by over 200 per cent (and counting).
Today, with the project still in the testing phase, the agency can't say when it will be completed or how much it will cost.

In the meantime, people filing for disability claims face long delays at nearly every step of the process — delays that were supposed to be reduced by the new processing system.

"The program has invested $288 million over six years, delivered limited functionality, and faced schedule delays as well as increasing stakeholder concerns," the report said.

As a result, agency leaders have decided to "reset" the program in an effort to save it, the report said.
I hope that works out better than Hillary's "reset" of our relations with Russia.
As part of that effort, Social Security brought in the outside consultants from McKinsey to figure out what went wrong

They found a massive technology initiative with no one in charge — no single person responsible for completing the project...
In our projects, there was always one individual responsible for every single task or action. That individual accountability was a key to our success. It's also something that is sorely lacking in practically all phases of government, not just the Social Security project.
The House Oversight Committee is also looking into the program, and whether Social Security officials tried to bury the McKinsey report...
Gee, that sounds familiar.

The troubled computer project is known at the Disability Case Processing System, or DCPS. It was supposed to replace 54 separate, antiquated computer systems used by state Social Security offices to process disability claims. As envisioned, workers across the country would be able to use the system to process claims and track them as benefits are awarded or denied, and claims are appealed.
In their defense, integrating 54 discrete legacy systems is a mammoth undertaking. We had a few projects like that. Our philosophy was to approach them in a manner similar to eating an elephant: one bite at a time. In other words, decompose the project into smaller and smaller chunks until they can't be broken down any further. Then reassemble the pieces from the bottom up. It's a tedious and complex process, but it works.
But as of April, the system couldn't even process all new claims, let alone accurately track them as they wound their way through the system, the report said. In all, more than 380 problems were still outstanding, and users hadn't even started testing the ability of the system to handle applications from children.
Maybe the system will be ready by the time those kids reach 65. But somehow I doubt it...


Old NFO said...

It's LockMart, until they are threatened with a shutdown/cancel, they'll keep dragging it out...

CenTexTim said...

No doubt.