FY 2017 Federal Budget Snapshot: Social Security Administration

Posted by John Slye on April 8, 2016

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FY 2017 Federal Budget Snapshot: Social Security Administration

Earlier this spring the White House released its fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request with several federal departments and agencies receiving notable increases in their overall discretionary and information technology (IT) budget submissions. The Social Security Administration is included in this category, especially for IT.

Total Discretionary Funding

The federal budget provides the Social Security Administration (SSA) with $13.2B in discretionary funds for FY 2017, $869M (+7.0%) over the FY 2016 enacted level. This total amount is broken out by Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE) $13,1B, Research and Demonstrations $58M and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) $112M.

Discretionary funding priorities include:

  • Improving and modernizing customer service, reducing wait times/backlogs, increasing on-line services
  • $200M in funding to support a suite of demonstration projects aimed at improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities before individuals apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
  • $58M in new budget authority as part of our Supplemental Security Income (SSI) appropriation to support extramural research projects to test changes to the disability programs to improve program administration and reduce dependency on SSA programs.

Total IT and New Development Budgets

SSA seeks just under $1.8B (+17.8%) for FY 2017 IT spending, rebounding well from the $360M (-19.4%) reduction in the FY 2016 enacted budget compared to FY 2015. Similarly, SSA is seeking to shift a larger portion of their IT budget in FY 2017 to Development/Modernization/Enhancement (DME) efforts over steady state or operations and maintenance (O&M) funding categories, a reversal in course over the last few years. SSA’s $683M of total DME funds increases $180M from FY 2016 and accounts for about 36% of the total FY 2017 IT budget, compared with 41% and 34% in FY 2015 and FY 2016 respectively. (See table below.)

Noteworthy IT Programs

Looking at the specifics of SSA’s IT investments and initiatives provides insight into the agency’s immediate priorities and future direction. Here are some initiatives that stand out among others due to relative size, budget growth, and/or proportion of new development spending.

IT funding highlights include:

  • Infrastructure Operations & Maintenance – The single largest IT budget line item accounts for 45% of SSA’s overall IT budget and consists of the O&M portion of their Infrastructure Portfolio, including data center, office automation and telecommunications. The FY 2017 budget allots $792.7M, up 4.1% and is entirely categorized as O&M spending.
  • Non-Major Infrastructure DME – The second largest IT budget line at SSA, this initiative accounts for 13.5% of SSA’s IT budget and focuses on infrastructure DME costs for data center, office automation and telecommunications efforts. The budget rises 55% for FY 2017 and 100% of the $237.9M is tagged as DME.
  • Non-Major IT Security Initiatives — This initiative implements security policies and controls within SSA IT and protects IT data resources from both internal and external user threats such as unauthorized access, misuse, damage, or loss. At $101M for FY 2017, the initiative is third among SSA’s largest IT budget lines and sees a 21.6% budget increases of $17.9M. DME funding is set at $51.1M, or 50.5%.
  • IT Modernization – IT Modernization is a multi-year, concerted effort to undertake modernization of the agency's legacy software and environment through the effective use of processes, tools, and services. At $71.3M for FY 2017 this programs budget nearly triples from FY 2016 and is about 50% larger than what SSA spent on it in FY 2015. The investment accounts for 4% of SSA’s IT budget and is 100% DME.
  • Disability Case Processing System (DCPS) – DCPS replaces the 54 disparate DDS systems, support and maintenance processes with a common case-processing system to deliver common functionality and consistent support to each DDS. As the 6th largest IT line, DCPS receives $49.3M in total funds for FY 2017, of which $47.5M (96%) are DME funds.

IT Modernization

In their budget description, SSA notes that the database systems that they use are 40 years old and are no longer considered to be the best solution to administer their programs. While SSA has worked to modernize their IT in small increments over several years they conclude that they have exhausted nearly all of these small efforts and are at a point where they must undertake a larger multiyear effort.

To that end, their FY 2017 budget requests $300M in multiyear funding spread over four years to undertake an IT modernization project, including $60M specifically for FY 2017, to address several areas including computer language/code, databases, and infrastructure. The FY 2017 budget also proposes additional IT modernization funding of $80M each year in FYs 2018-2020.

< For more in-depth analysis check out our report FY 2017 Federal Budget Request: Challenges and Opportunities which profiles the investment priorities and management initiatives in the Obama Administration’s FY 2017 budget request.