Jul 15, 2016

This Would Be A Lot Less Difficult To Address Than COBOL Problems

     From the written testimony of Rick Warsinskey, President, National Council of Social Security Management Associations(NCSSMA) an organization of Social Security managers, mostly at field offices, before the House Social Security Subcommittee yesterday:
... Every day, SSA [Social Security Administration] employees wait and watch as their computers crawl from one system’s window to another. Users watch the spinning wheel move as programs and screens attempt to load, losing valuable time that could be used to assist other customers or address workload backlogs. Around noon Eastern Time every day our system reaches peak capacity and the slowness becomes most apparent, as almost all the offices in the country are open to the public and taking claims, talking to the public on the telephone, or handling some aspect of a claimant’s record. We can demonstrate the degradation of SSA computer speed in real numbers. We surveyed our offices and found that data speed tests showed these median Megabits per Second (Mbps) speeds: 
Download: 2.87 Mbps 
Upload: .25 Mbps 
A year ago when we surveyed the same measurements, the median speeds were: Download: 
3.45 Mbps 
Upload: 2.0 Mbps 
This degradation in data speeds supports the nearly universal feedback we are receiving that our system is slowing down significantly. It is important to note the data speeds you can typically expect to receive from cable internet service providers are now over 50 Mbps for download and 10 Mbps for upload speed. ...
Our computers often freeze or applications become inaccessible and require a reboot. It can take 10 minutes to restart a computer and get back online. We are often unable to run live video training or engage in video communications with the public due to lack of bandwidth. Once we open more than five programs on our computers, they often freeze, requiring us to reboot the system. Internet access and our e-mail communications are also excruciatingly slow.
Our online time and attendance system (WebTA), which is the system used to pay employees, periodically freezes and is often down on the day we certify payroll for employees. Additional time is spent on the telephone waiting to talk to our internal help desk to resolve computer issues that we are experiencing. The need to call the help desk will only increase as SSA expands telework and calls to resolve access issues increase.


Anonymous said...

Cobol and other computer system problems have been present for 20 years. Not just at the Field Offices but also the DDS. Yes, SSA is one of the largest government agencies, but, other agencies have updated their computer systems. The agency saw this coming, congress saw this coming. Congress does not understand nor care enough to provide SSA with the funding necessary to fix these problems. The agency is in such chaos now and nothing appears prioritized. Removing Reconsideration, overhauling and downsizing the Appeals council, managing ODAR’s resources (allowing decision writers to do just that), ending the practice of on the spot and/or unnecessary raises – so much could be done to provide resources and solutions. Instead we have typical hubris- these little tweaks to hearings and representative requirements. With no one leading the ship, expect more universal unraveling of the agency on all fronts.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the first thing they need to do and do NOW is increase bandwidth:

"First, the most cost effective issue to address is the bandwidth problem. NCSSMA suggests that
a pilot be conducted to increase the bandwidth 10 times over our current rates to assess if this
provides relief. If this is successful, then the bandwidth speed across all of SSA should be

I get about 60 - 70 mbps bandwidth on my home computer from the cable company.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why the speeds are so slow--our ODAR office has fiberoptic lines, like three of them I believe. I would think SSA would have similar connections everywhere, but I suppose it just isn't available everywhere.

However, even with fiber, our connections are sometimes slow. Which leads me to believe it isn't the ISP or the bandwidth they provide, but rather our crappy systems/servers/programs slowing everything down. It has to be, I know we have plenty of bandwidth and speed through our multiple fiber lines.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:36

From the testimony:

"Second, the web-based applications need to be improved—WebTA, Visitor Intake Process (VIPr), MSSICS web-based screens, and Electronic Disability Collect System (EDCS). Perhaps when they were developed, bandwidth consumption was not appropriately considered. Is there a way to make these applications more bandwidth efficient?"

In other words, the programs may be bandwidth hogs.

Anonymous said...

I can imagine Comcast's representative now testifying in front of Congress:

"Ladies and gentlemen, you've paid for 100mb down/10mb up, but those are estimates and we have never guaranteed your speeds will always reach those figures."

Anonymous said...

The computers in hearing rooms for looking at claimant's disks take about 2 minutes to bring up a single exhibit. SSA is like traveling back in time to the mid 90s as far as technology goes.

Anonymous said...

The slow PC problem is exactly that - the laptops the agency bought are underpowered useless pieces of $hit. Then, because Systems is obviously staffed by morons, they design the standard image around a 32 bit operating system installation. So, even though the laptops have 8GB of memory, the OS can only access about 3.5GB and ends up swapping memory like crazy. And don't get me started on the poor quality of the security software -- apparently acquisitions depends upon Symantec's press releases because they have no clue about how how cruddy and slow the software is. Not to mention how much it slows down an already useless laptop. The laptop I have now works worse than the 5 year old tower it replaced -- there are a lot of days (more than not) I wish to hell I had the tower back.

Then, you have all the uselessly interconnected web applications. Of course, the agency has no clue how to design these things. They disable copy and paste functions in the most inopportune places, and you have to take your hands off the keyboard and grab a mouse to move from screen to screen. Say what you will about the old MCS/MSSICS setups for Social Security and SSI respectively, they may have sucked but at least they sucked very efficiently -- you could zip through data entry in no time at all. The current web applications on the other hand appear to have been designed by a retarded monkey.

God, the next round of early retirement offers next year can't come quickly enough....

Unknown said...

The mistake people make is to assume that these articles by Charles reflect Congressional incompetence or apathy. On the contrary, the degradation of SSAs ability to perform its function is the keystone in the Repub strategy to destroy the program. What better way to sway the American people than to show its heart-wrenching failings? What surer way to ensure failure than fiscal starvation?

Anonymous said...

LOL I had no idea our system image is 32 bit. But after clicking on properties for the computer, sure enough--i7 processor with 8 gb of RAM on a 32-bit version of windows. A travesty.

Anonymous said...

It's so much fun to have to reboot when you are at the front counter with a lobby full of people...waiting waiting waiting and unable to do anything while more and more people come in.

Anonymous said...

You can blame a lot of the system problems on the decision to eliminate the independent CIO function at SSA. The evaluation of data communications options or hardware choices is weak at best.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:45

And it's run largely by a bunch of boomers whose collective IT/comp sci knowledge wasn't that good when they acquired it 30 years ago. I believe the whole disruption obsession of tech types is ridiculous, but man oh man could most all Federal agencies use some major disruption with their tech-related stuff.