Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Madam Chairman, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Diaz-Balart, and members of both Subcommittees. As always, it's a pleasure to appear before you, and I thank you for the invitation to be here today. I've appeared before the Subcommittee on Social Security several times this year, on critical issues involving the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the services it provides to the American people. Most recently, I testified last month about SSA's backlog in initial disability claims, and our work on finding ways to better serve the public continues. Today, we are examining the status of SSA's efforts to replace the National Computer Center (NCC), SSA's national data processing and storage facility, which houses 450 million records of Americans' earnings, as well as current benefit data for almost 56 million beneficiaries.
The importance of the NCC to SSA's operations cannot be understated. The NCC is the repository for the applications and data that support all of SSA's functions, as well as other government functions that rely on SSA data. Ensuring the continued operation of the NCC is critical; were there an outage, the Agency would be unable to process tens of thousands of retirement, survivors, and disability claims, as well as Social Security number verifications. This type of service interruption would severely affect the American public, likely hindering people's ability to obtain employment, driver's licenses, and even loans and mortgages.
The NCC, located at SSA Headquarters in
With the need to replace the NCC so critical, the importance of doing so in a timely and efficient manner cannot be overstated. As such, the SSA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was pleased when Congress passed and the President signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provided $500 million for SSA to begin the process of replacing the NCC. However, the OIG is well aware of the challenges and delays that SSA faced in creating its Durham Support Center (DSC) in
The DSC was initiated in response to Agency vulnerabilities first identified in a 2002 Lockheed Martin assessment of SSA's disaster recovery plan. The assessment concluded that no backup facility existed that could meet the Agency's data processing needs in the event of a disaster that rendered the NCC unavailable.
It wasn't until three years later, in 2005, that SSA's Office of Facilities Management worked with the General Services Administration (GSA) to acquire a second
Currently, the DSC is still at least two years away from being "fully functional," due to the time needed for efficiency testing and additional equipment and data connections. When we say "fully functional," we mean that SSA will be able to meet its disaster recovery objectives by restoring critical functions within 24 hours of a disaster with less than one hour of data loss. Before the DSC is completely online in 2012, SSA's backup and recovery strategy continues to rely on a vendor hot site, an alternate facility equipped with the technological capacity and personnel required to recover critical business functions or information systems.
The Agency encountered a number of delays during the acquisition and construction of the DSC. We determined it took six years, starting in December 2002, for the Agency to plan, construct, and occupy the co-processing center. The Agency spent the first 26 months analyzing disaster recovery solutions, then 14 months selecting a site, then 32 months obtaining permits and constructing the new
Given the importance of the Agency's current efforts to build a new NCC, we believe SSA should learn from its experience with the DSC and take the necessary steps to ensure proper planning to mitigate project delays and cost increases. The DSC's reliability will also be critical during construction of the new
The process to replace the NCC began in earnest in 2007, when SSA commissioned the Lockheed Martin NCC Feasibility Study to identify infrastructure and processing capacity issues. Lockheed Martin completed the study in February 2008, identifying three viable options for replacing the NCC: constructing a new NCC on the SSA campus, constructing a new NCC apart from the SSA campus, or leasing an existing off-campus
Based on an examination of the pros and cons of each alternative based on the risk to continuity of operations, timeline, and cost, Lockheed Martin recommended that SSA pursue the construction of a new off-campus
On Lockheed Martin's recommendation, we understand that SSA plans to move forward with a new off-campus
Subsequently, SSA engaged Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) to conduct an NCC alternatives analysis. In a February 2009 report, BAH estimated that total costs for construction and building maintenance would be $748 million for a new off-campus
BAH also issued a study on the preferred distance of the new
Thus, it has been consistently suggested that the off-campus option is the more efficient approach. The OIG did not initially receive the documentation and information it requested to conduct an independent analysis of this issue. However, we did receive additional information last month, and retained a contractor to conduct an independent verification and validation of the previous SSA contractor reports to ensure accuracy, completeness, and adherence to industry best practices and standards. The contractor, Strategic e-Business Solutions (SeBS), concluded that SSA had developed "a highly sophisticated set of selection criteria with which to evaluate general areas of consideration and prospective individual properties."
However, SeBS also concluded that questions remain concerning the process the SSA site selection team has employed in creating a short list of site properties. The contractor added that because of still-limited documentation, it is difficult to determine how the team intends to compare and contrast the sites that pass the initial threshold and meet the mandatory minimum criteria.
Additionally, SeBS developed for SSA and GSA the following recommended actions:
Further, after reviewing the SeBS report, we went back to SeBS and requested that they examine the cost and efficiency differences between building a new
Our contractor has reported back to us and, while the report remains in draft, they share several of our concerns with respect to the decision regarding whether to locate the NCC replacement off-campus. First, they are concerned that there appears to have been confusion in prior studies as to the purported six-year delay for zoning and related land issues if the NCC is built on the SSA campus. While there are possible land acquisition and community concerns connected to an on-campus decision, zoning is decidedly not an issue, and six years does not appear to be a realistic estimate for such delays. Second, SeBS shares our concern that more attention needs to be given to the actual cost comparison between the on-campus and off-campus options. Since an on-campus project would be a significantly different undertaking than an off-campus one, there is a sense that apples are perhaps being compared to oranges, and that these differing factors need to be considered more carefully before a decision is made as to whether a new
We have learned only very recently that SSA and GSA appear to be thinking along these same lines, and have taken steps to address these concerns. We look forward to receiving additional documentation created in this process and providing these subcommittees with our analysis.
We have continually identified the NCC construction process as a significant issue facing SSA. In a June Congressional Response Report, The Social Security Administration's Information Technology Strategic Planning, we said, "Despite the corrective actions planned or taken by the Agency at the NCC in response to the 2008 Lockheed Martin study and the repairs and upgrades over the past 15 years, we believe the Agency should have taken action much sooner regarding many of the issues at the NCC."
My office is dedicated to working with SSA to ensure that the site selection effort for a new