Andrew Saul, the White House’s nominee for commissioner of Social Security, noted his commitment to continue the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) IT modernization efforts during a Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday.

“In the not distant past, SSA essentially wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that went nowhere,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the committee. He asked how Saul would evaluate claims and make decisions on IT projects.

“In my previous experience at the Federal Retirement Board, I inherited a completely failed system that basically was not functional at the time I took over as chairman,” Saul said, touting his experience and success as chairman of the Federal Thrift Investment Board. “I am very aware what can go wrong in a big government agency if these systems are not well thought out. One of my primary tasks in the first six months to a year will be to sit down and review the modernization plan that’s in place at SSA, from top to bottom.”

Other senators on the committee zeroed in on the cyber threats facing SSA.

“This is the critical task for every Federal agency at a time where data theft is rampant. More vulnerabilities and opportunities for cybercrime crop up every day,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Wyden noted the importance of appointing a commissioner to hire senior executives, “such as the person in charge of SSA’s IT security.”

Senators expressed concern about the lack of sharing data with other agencies to prevent improper payments. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called on Saul to share the agency’s death data with other agencies and make it a priority.

McCaskill also expressed concern that SSA building its own systems would be too expensive, and asked Saul to look to the private market for new systems. “If people in America knew the billions and billions of dollars wasted on IT acquisition in the Federal government, they’d be even madder than they are now,” McCaskill said. Saul offered his agreement, calling on his experience at the Federal Retirement Board, and reiterated his promise to review the modernization plan.

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