The Social Security Administration found itself facing heavy criticism from a powerful congressional committee last week following the publication of an independent report outlining major failures by the agency in its quest to develop a computer system designed to expedite disability claims.

According to the report, the SSA commissioned multiple contractors — including Lockheed Martin — to create the computer system six years ago. While Lockheed indicated in a 2011 news release that the new computer system would enable the agency to process disability claims “faster and with higher consistency” and eliminate 54 separate operating systems, the report indicates that this has yet to occur.

Indeed, the report outlines how six years later, the project is still in beta testing, has over 380 outstanding problems, and most significantly has cost almost $300 million.

This lack of forward momentum drew the ire of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which not only demanded that the agency produce all documentation related to the computer system as soon as possible, but also penned an angry letter to Carolyn Colvin, the SSA’s acting commissioner.

“It is concerning that while you and other agency officials routinely testify that the agency needs more funding from Congress, the agency wasted nearly $300 million on an IT boondoggle,” read the letter.

For their part, agency officials have acknowledged that the creation of the Disability Case Processing System has proved problematic, but indicated that they have already taken “proactive and definitive steps.” For instance, as called for in the report, a single executive armed with full authority has been appointed to oversee the program.

While it’s encouraging to see the SSA taking positive steps to rectify the problem, here’s hoping they can do more in the short term to help those Americans who need disability benefits to help make ends meet. Indeed, statistics reveal that as of June, there were more than 660,000 disability claims awaiting initial decisions and the average processing time for these claims was 110 days.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Social Security computer system still not working after six years,” Yvonne Wenger, July 24, 2014