Social Security Administration IT Budget Snapshot

Published: April 02, 2014


When the federal IT budget request is released each year I am as guilty as the next analyst at heading right to the largest and most highly publicized departments to see what they are getting and what changes are in store for the next year. As we move down the list by budget size occasionally I’ll find some significant changes or other aspects that make an agency stand out. Such is the case with the Social Security Administration (SSA) IT budget for FY 2015.

Social Security IT and New Development Budgets

Among federal civilian departments and agencies Social Security ranks 9th in size of overall IT budgets in the latest budget request.  For comparison, four of the larger departments see budget increases and the other four see reductions, but a near-8% IT budget reduction for FY2015 makes the SSA stand out as receiving one of the largest cuts among agencies with IT budgets at or above $1B. SSA’s new development budget is also cut by more than 8%, and while this is significant it is less of a reduction than many of the other large agencies are facing.

Specific year-over-year changes include:

  • Total Information Technology budget declines from $1,667.4M in FY 2014 to $1538.4M in FY 2015, down 7.7%

  • Development, Modernization, and Enhancement funding drops from $752.7M in FY 2014 to $689.1M in FY 2015, a decline of 8.4%.

Noteworthy IT Programs . . . by the Numbers

As I compared budget size and year-over-year changes in total budget as well as new development funding, here are five initiatives that stood out based on the numbers:

  • Infrastructure - Data Center – Data Center provides the IT Infrastructure for SSA's computer network and facilities.  It maintains SSA's mainframe, client server desktop, and intranet/internet infrastructures, which support the transfer of information between the agency and end users. At $489.1M for FY 2015, the initiative accounts for nearly a third of SSA’s overall IT budget. It sees an 11% cut from FY 2014 but is still 20% higher than FY 2013. The DME level is 38%.

  • Infrastructure - Office Automation – The Office Automation initiative supports general IT resources that SSA requires to meet its workload demands. After a $56M bump in FY2014 this program’s budget returns to $139.7M in FY 2015, roughly equal to its FY2013 level. The DME level for FY 2015 is 68% in support of new investments.

  • Intelligent Disability – This eighth-largest SSA IT budget line focuses on three main IT efforts: provide linkage between Electronic Disability Folder and SSA modernized systems and strategic goals, assist in reducing hearing office backlogs, and improve speed and quality of the disability process. The program receives the third largest total budget increase across the SSA, moving from $32.4M to $40.1M. It also maintains its 100% DME level, making it largest increase in DME funds for FY 2015.

  • Earnings Redesign – This initiative intends to streamline and modernize the current systems in order to ensure that records of earnings are timely and accurate. This smaller initiative receives one of the largest total budget and DME increases for FY 2015, $5M (+29%) and $2.7M (+20%) respectively.

  • Non-Major IT Security Architectures — This initiative supports several projects: Software Engineering Security Support, ICAM, and OIS Security Architecture. At $32.2M for FY 2015, the initiative is ninth among SSA’s largest IT budget lines and sees one of the largest overall budget increases of $3.6M (+13%). DME funding is set at 63%.

SSA’s Budget Overview reveals some of the reason for the downward turn in spending is due to IT enhancements they made in FY 2013, which has helped them process a record number of retirement claims. However, SSA goes on to acknowledge that overall service suffered due to the loss of nearly 11,000 employees from the beginning of FY 2011 through FY 2013. To compensate, their FY 2015 budget request includes $100 million for IT investments related to customer service modernization efforts.

Plus, like so many other departments, the SSA may benefit from the White House’s new Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative, if enacted. The OGSI is a separate series of additional investments in the budget that pumps an additional $150M into SSA's customer service initiatives to further reduce wait times and enhance services for the public.

Yes, SSA’s FY 2015 IT budget is nearly 8% lower than FY 2014, but that would still be 3.3% higher than its FY 2013 budget of $1.489B  and its DME level is nearly 20% higher than FY 2013 as well. This a point worth noting: SSA’s relative DME percentage of 45% gives it one of the highest new development spending proportions across the federal government, second only to the Department of Transportation.  All of the other $1B+ IT budget departments fall in the 5-15% range for DME by comparison.  So while their rate of growth over the last few years has softened the SSA is sustaining key IT programs and investing in new capabilities and capacity.