GOP senators hold up nomination of new Social Security head

Signaling closer scrutiny of incompetence and possible criminality, a group of GOP senators headed by Orrin Hatch of Utah has delayed confirmation of the nominee to head the Social Security Administration.  Stephen Ohlemacher of the AP reports:

President Barack Obama's pick to head the Social Security Administration could be stalled over the agency's handling of a $300 million computer project that doesn't work.

A group of Republican senators said Wednesday they will try to block the nomination of Carolyn W. Colvin until an investigation into the troubled computer project is concluded.

A senior Democratic senator agreed that Colvin's confirmation should be delayed until she answers questions about the project, increasing the likelihood that a vote will be pushed into next year, when Republicans take control of the Senate.

All 11 Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee signed a letter to Colvin Wednesday. They said there is evidence Social Security officials may have misled Congress and investigators about problems with the computer program, which is supposed to help workers process and manage disability claims.

Colvin has been the acting commissioner since February 2013. Before that, she was deputy commissioner for three and-a-half years. Obama nominated her to a six-year term in June.

"We cannot in good faith allow a nomination for any position that requires the advice and consent of the Senate to proceed to a vote as long as the specter of a potential criminal investigation surrounds the nominee and/or those in their inner circle," wrote the senators, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee.

"Therefore," the senators wrote to Colvin, "it is essential to address your role with respect to this inquiry before each of us can make an informed decision on how to vote for your nomination once it reaches the full Senate for consideration."

Government is notoriously incompetent at implementing information technology, as last year’s Obamacare website debacle demonstrates conclusively.  The fact that IT constitutes a larger and larger share of both business and government activity as each year passes bodes very ill for the future.

The signers of the letter include Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Michael Enzi (R-WY), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Thune (R-SD), J. Richard Burr (R-NC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA),  Rob Portman (R-OH), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).

The full letter is below:

The Honorable Carolyn W. Colvin

Acting Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401

 

Dear Ms. Colvin:

Just days prior to the July 31, 2014 hearing before the Senate Finance Committee to consider your nomination to be the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), several Members of this Committee became aware of disturbing allegations concerning potential mismanagement and waste at SSA.  Several sources, including whistleblowers, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, reported that SSA had expended nearly $300 million over a six year period in a failed attempt to develop and implement the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS). 

Apparently, these sources derived their information from a June 2014 independent report regarding the DCPS initiative commissioned by SSA from McKinsey & Company, which was provided to Congress by SSA whistleblowers.  The McKinsey & Company report concluded that the failure was due to mismanagement in the planning and development of DCPS.  This, in turn, has resulted in a substantial waste of taxpayer dollars and SSA resources.  Even though the story surrounding the failed DCPS initiative was just then breaking, Ranking Member Hatch raised it with you in his opening remarks at the nomination hearing.  These allegations are deeply disconcerting.  At a minimum, they call into question the quality of SSA’s overall management of this project, the leadership skills of SSA’s top executives, and their commitment to prevent waste and ensure efficient use of SSA’s scarce resources.

As you are aware, your nomination was voted on by the full Senate Finance Committee and 22 Senators on the Finance Committee voted to send your nomination to the full Senate for its consideration.  Since doing so, additional troubling information has come to our attention regarding SSA’s mismanagement of the DCPS that may bear on your qualifications to serve as Commissioner.  On November 18, 2014, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security released an Interim Report prepared by the Social Security Inspector General that raised, but did not resolve, a variety of issues including possible actions by SSA officials to mislead both the Congress and the Inspector General about the deficiencies in the development of the DCPS.  Further, a press release issued by the House Subcommittee on Social Security on November 18, 2014, stated that the “results of a criminal investigation regarding the implementation of DCPS are still pending.” 

Moreover, we have received information from whistleblowers that the ongoing investigation has centered around the activities of certain members of your immediate office, including several high-level agency officials.  We cannot in good faith allow a nomination for any position that requires the advice and consent of the Senate to proceed to a vote as long as the specter of a potential criminal investigation surrounds the nominee and/or those in their inner circle.  Therefore, it is essential to address your role with respect to this inquiry before each of us can make an informed decision on how to vote for your nomination once it reaches the full Senate for consideration.

We have sought to better understand, from representatives of the Office of the Social Security Inspector General, the precise nature of the possible criminal actions that it is investigating, to allow us to make an informed decision regarding your qualifications to be the next Commissioner of SSA.  However, because the investigation is ongoing, those representatives are unable to provide the information necessary to make such a decision.  We further understand that the SSA Inspector General is in the process of transferring the investigation to another agency’s Inspector General.  This action has also impeded our ability to get at the substance of the investigation and the allegations regarding potential criminal conduct.

Accordingly, we are compelled to ask you directly to answer the following questions:

1)         When did you first become aware that there were significant issues and problems with the DCPS initiative?

2)         Who apprised you of these issues and problems?

3)         What corrective actions did you take upon learning of the problems?  We are solely interested in those corrective actions that you initiated before receiving the results of the McKinsey & Company report in June 2014, and after you first became aware of the issues adversely affecting the DCPS.

4)         Did you at any time direct any employee to not disclose some or all of the findings made by McKinsey & Company to any other person?  If you answer “YES,” please explain why you so directed.

5)         To your knowledge, did any other SSA employee at any time direct other employees not to disclose some or all of the findings made by McKinsey & Company to any other person?

6)         Did you ever discuss with any SSA employee the possibility of withholding some or all of the McKinsey Report from SSA management or staff?

7)         If so, with whom did you discuss the possibility of withholding some or all of the results of the McKinsey & Company report?

8)         The SSA Office of the Inspector General reports that it met with SSA on numerous occasions to discuss the DCPS initiative and that SSA representatives at those meetings never mentioned to representatives of the Inspector General that SSA was encountering problems in the development of the DCPS.  Why did you not take action to apprise the Office of the Inspector General of these problems?

9)         When did you notify Congress about the deficiencies, issues and problems plaguing the DCPS initiative?  And if not, why did you not think such notice was warranted?

10)       Did you or any other employee of SSA provide procurement-sensitive information to any vendor associated with the DCPS initiative?

11)       Did you or any other employee of SSA attempt to exert improper influence on SSA employees in the award of any contract, task or delivery order associated with the DCPS initiative?

12)       Did you or any other employee of SSA attempt in any way to convey an unfair competitive advantage to any vendor associated with the DCPS initiative?               

13)       Are you aware of any conduct by any SSA employee(s) relating to the DCPS initiative that could possibly be construed as criminal in nature?  If so, please describe the conduct and identify the employee(s) who engaged in that conduct.

We request that you provide answers to the above questions no later than by 5:00 PM on Monday, December 8, 2014.  If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Nick Wyatt of the Committee Staff at 202-224-4515.

Signaling closer scrutiny of incompetence and possible criminality, a group of GOP senators headed by Orrin Hatch of Utah has delayed confirmation of the nominee to head the Social Security Administration.  Stephen Ohlemacher of the AP reports:

President Barack Obama's pick to head the Social Security Administration could be stalled over the agency's handling of a $300 million computer project that doesn't work.

A group of Republican senators said Wednesday they will try to block the nomination of Carolyn W. Colvin until an investigation into the troubled computer project is concluded.

A senior Democratic senator agreed that Colvin's confirmation should be delayed until she answers questions about the project, increasing the likelihood that a vote will be pushed into next year, when Republicans take control of the Senate.

All 11 Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee signed a letter to Colvin Wednesday. They said there is evidence Social Security officials may have misled Congress and investigators about problems with the computer program, which is supposed to help workers process and manage disability claims.

Colvin has been the acting commissioner since February 2013. Before that, she was deputy commissioner for three and-a-half years. Obama nominated her to a six-year term in June.

"We cannot in good faith allow a nomination for any position that requires the advice and consent of the Senate to proceed to a vote as long as the specter of a potential criminal investigation surrounds the nominee and/or those in their inner circle," wrote the senators, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee.

"Therefore," the senators wrote to Colvin, "it is essential to address your role with respect to this inquiry before each of us can make an informed decision on how to vote for your nomination once it reaches the full Senate for consideration."

Government is notoriously incompetent at implementing information technology, as last year’s Obamacare website debacle demonstrates conclusively.  The fact that IT constitutes a larger and larger share of both business and government activity as each year passes bodes very ill for the future.

The signers of the letter include Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Michael Enzi (R-WY), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Thune (R-SD), J. Richard Burr (R-NC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA),  Rob Portman (R-OH), and Patrick Toomey (R-PA).

The full letter is below:

The Honorable Carolyn W. Colvin

Acting Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401

 

Dear Ms. Colvin:

Just days prior to the July 31, 2014 hearing before the Senate Finance Committee to consider your nomination to be the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), several Members of this Committee became aware of disturbing allegations concerning potential mismanagement and waste at SSA.  Several sources, including whistleblowers, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, reported that SSA had expended nearly $300 million over a six year period in a failed attempt to develop and implement the Disability Case Processing System (DCPS). 

Apparently, these sources derived their information from a June 2014 independent report regarding the DCPS initiative commissioned by SSA from McKinsey & Company, which was provided to Congress by SSA whistleblowers.  The McKinsey & Company report concluded that the failure was due to mismanagement in the planning and development of DCPS.  This, in turn, has resulted in a substantial waste of taxpayer dollars and SSA resources.  Even though the story surrounding the failed DCPS initiative was just then breaking, Ranking Member Hatch raised it with you in his opening remarks at the nomination hearing.  These allegations are deeply disconcerting.  At a minimum, they call into question the quality of SSA’s overall management of this project, the leadership skills of SSA’s top executives, and their commitment to prevent waste and ensure efficient use of SSA’s scarce resources.

As you are aware, your nomination was voted on by the full Senate Finance Committee and 22 Senators on the Finance Committee voted to send your nomination to the full Senate for its consideration.  Since doing so, additional troubling information has come to our attention regarding SSA’s mismanagement of the DCPS that may bear on your qualifications to serve as Commissioner.  On November 18, 2014, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security released an Interim Report prepared by the Social Security Inspector General that raised, but did not resolve, a variety of issues including possible actions by SSA officials to mislead both the Congress and the Inspector General about the deficiencies in the development of the DCPS.  Further, a press release issued by the House Subcommittee on Social Security on November 18, 2014, stated that the “results of a criminal investigation regarding the implementation of DCPS are still pending.” 

Moreover, we have received information from whistleblowers that the ongoing investigation has centered around the activities of certain members of your immediate office, including several high-level agency officials.  We cannot in good faith allow a nomination for any position that requires the advice and consent of the Senate to proceed to a vote as long as the specter of a potential criminal investigation surrounds the nominee and/or those in their inner circle.  Therefore, it is essential to address your role with respect to this inquiry before each of us can make an informed decision on how to vote for your nomination once it reaches the full Senate for consideration.

We have sought to better understand, from representatives of the Office of the Social Security Inspector General, the precise nature of the possible criminal actions that it is investigating, to allow us to make an informed decision regarding your qualifications to be the next Commissioner of SSA.  However, because the investigation is ongoing, those representatives are unable to provide the information necessary to make such a decision.  We further understand that the SSA Inspector General is in the process of transferring the investigation to another agency’s Inspector General.  This action has also impeded our ability to get at the substance of the investigation and the allegations regarding potential criminal conduct.

Accordingly, we are compelled to ask you directly to answer the following questions:

1)         When did you first become aware that there were significant issues and problems with the DCPS initiative?

2)         Who apprised you of these issues and problems?

3)         What corrective actions did you take upon learning of the problems?  We are solely interested in those corrective actions that you initiated before receiving the results of the McKinsey & Company report in June 2014, and after you first became aware of the issues adversely affecting the DCPS.

4)         Did you at any time direct any employee to not disclose some or all of the findings made by McKinsey & Company to any other person?  If you answer “YES,” please explain why you so directed.

5)         To your knowledge, did any other SSA employee at any time direct other employees not to disclose some or all of the findings made by McKinsey & Company to any other person?

6)         Did you ever discuss with any SSA employee the possibility of withholding some or all of the McKinsey Report from SSA management or staff?

7)         If so, with whom did you discuss the possibility of withholding some or all of the results of the McKinsey & Company report?

8)         The SSA Office of the Inspector General reports that it met with SSA on numerous occasions to discuss the DCPS initiative and that SSA representatives at those meetings never mentioned to representatives of the Inspector General that SSA was encountering problems in the development of the DCPS.  Why did you not take action to apprise the Office of the Inspector General of these problems?

9)         When did you notify Congress about the deficiencies, issues and problems plaguing the DCPS initiative?  And if not, why did you not think such notice was warranted?

10)       Did you or any other employee of SSA provide procurement-sensitive information to any vendor associated with the DCPS initiative?

11)       Did you or any other employee of SSA attempt to exert improper influence on SSA employees in the award of any contract, task or delivery order associated with the DCPS initiative?

12)       Did you or any other employee of SSA attempt in any way to convey an unfair competitive advantage to any vendor associated with the DCPS initiative?               

13)       Are you aware of any conduct by any SSA employee(s) relating to the DCPS initiative that could possibly be construed as criminal in nature?  If so, please describe the conduct and identify the employee(s) who engaged in that conduct.

We request that you provide answers to the above questions no later than by 5:00 PM on Monday, December 8, 2014.  If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Nick Wyatt of the Committee Staff at 202-224-4515.