House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology (Horn) and House Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Technology (Morella) on Y2K Readiness
John Dyer, SSA's Principal Deputy Commissioner Testified On a Panel with Representatives of GAO, OMB, Department of Energy, and the U. S. Postal Service,
October 29, 1999
I appreciate being here today to discuss the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Day One Plan and Business Continuity and Contingency Plans for the Year 2000 changeover. I would like to thank the subcommittees for holding this hearing to make the public aware of SSA's plans for a continuation of service if the unexpected should happen.
Social Security is recognized as a leader in preparing our systems for the Year 2000, and we are confident that the monthly payments to 50 million people and the earnings records of 145 million workers will not be affected. Social Security's benefit payment systems are Year 2000 ready.
Status of Year 2000 Preparation
We are happy to report that all of our mission critical systems that ensure the continuity of SSA's core business processes are now certified as Year 2000 compliant. These automated systems are the means by which SSA is able to provide service on demand to the public, the Agency client population, other government entities, and large and small corporations and individual businesses.
We worked with the State Disability Determination Services (DDS) to make sure that the 55 State DDSs that have automated systems to support the disability determination process are year 2000 compliant. As of January, 1999 all of the State DDS systems are Year 2000 compliant.
Joint testing of payment files has been successfully completed. End to end testing from SSA, through Treasury and the Federal Reserve (Automated Clearing House) for direct deposit payments were also successfully completed in August 1998. In addition, the Federal Reserve has been conducting tests with financial institutions and Social Security transactions are included in those test files. Critical Federal systems supporting the Social Security program at SSA, Treasury, and the Postal Service are ready for the 21st century and will be able to provide benefits to more than 48 million Americans under the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs without interruption throughout 1999 and in the year 2000. Millions of Americans rely on such monthly payments. In fact, since October 1998, payments for both Social Security and SSI programs have been made with Year 2000-compliant systems.
We recognize that it is not enough for SSA to be Year 2000 compliant if our trading partners are not ready. We have worked closely with our trading partners. I am pleased to report that all outgoing and incoming exchanges are compliant and implemented.
Today, I would like to discuss SSA's plan of action for the days immediately surrounding the millennium change , our overall contingency plan, our plans addressing potential problems with the national power grid and utility companies, and public overreaction to the Year 2000 issue.
Day One Strategy
Our Day One Strategy is a comprehensive set of actions that will be executed during the last days of 1999 and the first days of 2000. The strategy also includes the activities leading up to the critical century rollover date, such as identification of key personnel involved, preparation of facilities checklists, establishment of the Year 2000 command center, a schedule for testing systems over the rollover weekend, and other activities. Implementation of the Strategy will ensure, to the extent possible, that SSA's facilities and systems will be fully operational on January 3, 2000Bthe first business day of the new century. That is, service to the public and our trading partners will continue without interruption due to the change of century date. We are proud that the Government Accounting Office has recognized SSA for developing our day-one strategy and it is being used as an example to be followed government wide.
Walkthrough of SSA's Year 2000 Activities December 30 - January 3
Let me give you a brief picture of what will happen beginning Thursday December 30. SSA will have a Year 2000 command center in Baltimore. During the time period from December 30 to January 3, designated personnel throughout SSA will inspect, evaluate, and report on virtually every office throughout SSA.
Under SSA's Day One plan, agency computers will shut down earlier than usual on Thursday, December 30. Taking the systems off-line will allow officials to collect all their 1999 computer transactions from nearly 1,400 offices, including those from Guam and Hawaii.
During the night and continuing into Friday, the Social Security computer systems will finish updating SSA's master files. This will complete the processing of the 1999 transactions.
Just before midnight Friday, Social Security's main data center in Baltimore will switch to generators powered by jet fuel. The agency has stockpiled sufficient jet fuel to operate for several days. While we do not expect any disruptions to the region's power grid, we are taking this precaution to guard against any electrical surges that could damage our equipment. When the power company lets the agency know everything is fine, we will turn off the generators and hook back into regular power lines. The power switching will not require the agency to turn off our computers.
Immediately after the stroke of midnight on December 31st, 1999, teams will begin assessing the health of SSA's equipment and software. This is the first opportunity in the actual Year 2000 environment to be assured of our systems' capability to process transactions for the Year 2000.
On Saturday, January 1st, SSA's online computer systems will be available for use and staff at selected offices will key in data. Taking this action gives SSA the opportunity two full days before we open our doors to the public to assess the health of our systems and we can correct any problems that might occur.
It will allow us to assess the Baltimore infrastructure that supports our field office computer processing, including the hardware and software, and infrastructure elementsBelectrical power, telephones, security systems, elevators, water supply, and so on are in working order. The agency will also test the 800 number telecommunications system. If any component cannot function properly at that time, corrective action will be undertaken immediately.
The Baltimore command center will also be in communication with several non-SSA sites. SSA will be in communication with the Treasury Command Center to discuss and take any action on any problems that banks are experiencing in posting electronic fund transfers. We will be in communication with the White House Information Coordination Center and the media, as necessary advising them of the status of SSA. SSA will keep members of Congress informed of our overall status that weekend if we encounter any national-level problems.
On Saturday morning, New Year's Day, groups of programmers will work throughout the day to run checks on the computer systems for 1,400 facilities including field office, toll-free telephone calling centers, hearings and appeals offices, regional offices and the Baltimore headquarters. Social Security managers will report to their offices and make sure all equipment is working. The managers will report their findings to regional offices, which will forward data to the command center in Baltimore.
Approximately 100 sites have been selected to serve as Abarometer offices,@ including 55 offices that make disability determinations. The agency's technical staff will test software systems by conducting a series of typical transactions, such as processing applications for benefits. The Baltimore command center will monitor the processing and check to see that the systems are working properly. If problems are found, teams will be dispatched to make necessary repairs. The teams will have Saturday night and Sunday to fix problems.
SSA understands the security risks associated with the rollover weekend. We have developed and put in place specific plans to address both physical security and electronic security.
On Monday morning, January 3rd, Social Security will open for business. We have worked hard to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, that SSA's facilities and systems will be fully operational on this first business day of the new century.
Business Continuity and Contingency Plan
SSA's Day One Strategy is part of SSA's overall Business Continuity and Contingency Plan. The plan was first issued March 31, 1998, and it is updated quarterly. We completed testing our contingency plan last month. The plan is consistent with Government Accounting guidelines and is being used as a model by other agencies and the private sector.
The purpose of this plan is to ensure the continuity of SSA's core business processes, including disability claims processing functions supported by the Disability Determination Services. Our automated systems are the means by which SSA is able to provide service on demand to the public, and are crucial to SSA's ability to fulfill our mission. This plan prepares the Agency to avoid a crisis that could result if its automated systems are unable to recognize Year-2000 dates. The plan identifies risks and threats, establishes mitigation strategies for the identified risks and threats, and provides contingencies in the event risk mitigation fails.
The risk of failure is not limited to SSA's internal systems. SSA's ability to provide world class service to beneficiaries, workers and their families depend on a complex infrastructure that is crucial to our ongoing operations. Power, data, and voice telecommunications, along with the Agency's computer operations hardware and software, are essential to ensuring that SSA's business processes are able to continue uninterrupted.
As risk mitigation strategies are in place, the degrees of risk are reduced and the possibility that the contingency plan would need to be implemented are similarly reduced. Our Business Continuity and Contingency Plan is also being used to identify areas where more detailed plans are needed.
As part of this plan, we have in place local plans for each of our field offices, teleservice centers, processing centers, hearing offices and State DDSs. We have developed contingency plans for benefit payment and delivery, building operations, human resources, and communications.
For over a year, payments for both Social Security and SSI programs have been made with Year 2000-compliant systems. Since we are aware that one weak link anywhere in the chain, including the links representing our business partners as well as the public infrastructure, can cause major disruption to business operations, we developed a benefit payment and delivery plan in conjunction with the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. This plan provides alternate ways of getting payments to Social Security beneficiaries. In November 1999 Field Office employees will receive training as to the actions and procedures they are to follow, should an unanticipated problem occur with a financial institution.
At any given time, unforeseen factors such as inclement weather, natural disasters, accidents, or equipment failures can and do have some affect on power. SSA is accustomed to planning and responding to emergencies and other unexpected events. SSA has contingency plans in place to deal with such emergencies. For example during the recent Hurricanes that struck North Carolina there were some disruptions in service. However, proper contingency planning and advance preparation allowed quick recovery and resumption of services. If regional or national level outages are experienced, SSA has plans to suspend SSA activities at locations without backup power systems until utilities are restored. Our agency can move people to work and work to people. We have in place an 800 telephone number system that can redirect phone calls to other parts of the country
Currently, one of our greatest concerns is misinformation and confusion over what may occur during the changeover to 2000. A public reaction to misinformation could potentially generate overwhelming workloads, causing disruptions to our business operations. We want the public to understand that we have prepared for the Year 2000 conversion. We have plans to insure a continuation of service if the unexpected happens. We are thankful for the lead taken by the Congress, John Koskinen, as Chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion Efforts and Joel Willemssen and others at the General Accounting Office to keep the American public informed concerning the actions that we, as well as other Federal agencies have taken to prepare for the Year 2000.
In conclusion, we are committed to keeping the members of Congress fully informed if a serious problem develops. In the event that any service to any of our local offices is interrupted and contingency plans are implemented, the manager of any affected Social Security office will call the local Congressional office as soon as possible. The manager will let them know how we will provide service to the Congressional representative, Congressional office and the constituents who are normally serviced by that office.
On September 23, 1999, we sent each member of Congress a letter outlining the steps we will take to keep you informed of any disruption of services, including the names and phone numbers of the managers in each local office within your State who will be responsible for calling you in the event of service disruption.
SSA is proud of our reputation as a leader in addressing Year 2000 issues. Because of SSA's early planning and testing, we fully expect that SSA's processes will function properly. We are confident that we are prepared for the arrival of the new millennium. I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.