The Social Security Administration (SSA) is focusing its IT modernization efforts on making its benefits claim systems more accessible online, the agency’s Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) Patrick Newbold, said on Feb. 21.

“We’re really focused on our retirement and disability systems, Social Security income systems, and our Medicare application systems to modernize – and we want to accelerate that,” Newbold said during a Federal News Network event.

Newbold hopes the modernization efforts will pay off in the next three years by allowing members of the public to address most of their needs online or through a mobile device – receiving “equitable service no matter what channel” they use.

“In March 2020, our primary way to serve the customer was face-to-face, and so modernization helped create new adaptive ways to serve the customer,” Newbold said. “Today, many of those services can be delivered through our digital channels.”

“But those systems are in terrible need of modernization,” he said.

Late last year, the Government Accountability Office clobbered SSA for falling short with its online services.

The watchdog agency specifically noted that disability claims and claims by vulnerable populations saw a decline during the coronavirus pandemic due to SSA’s inability to accept certain benefit applications online, including those in Spanish.

“SSA cannot fulfill its mission to ensure that its services are equitable and accessible, and some eligible individuals may not apply for benefits,” the Nov. 17 report says.

Newbold said the SSA is now taking a whole-of-agency approach to modernize these systems.

“We’re looking for a new approach to modernize those systems,” he said. Currently, the agency is actively looking to fill an executive position for a chief program officer so a designated person can help the SSA stay focused in their modernization efforts.

“We’re moving from the project to product framework,” Newbold said. “What’s really driving us to determine what to target is a human-centered approach, and that points us to those priorities that we want to focus on.”

“IT and digital modernization is a whole agency approach,” he emphasized. “If we’re going to upgrade technologies, we don’t want to do it just to do it, we want to upgrade processes and policies that better support business – and overall, the entire organization.”

Newbold continued, adding, “We can modernize our business processes and we can implement enabling modern technology that focuses on enhancing the user experience.”

He said the SSA will begin leveraging technology that is available today to curate a future for the agency that is adaptable, flexible, and scalable to change.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.