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Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Cathy Noe/ John Trollinger/Carolyn Cheezum

For Immediate Release

410-965-8904 FAX 410-966-9973

Social Security Online


News Release


Press Conference

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Remarks by

Kenneth S. Apfel, Commissioner of Social Security


Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being here today.

As you know, almost everyone in the United States is touched by Social Security. Whether it's the 50 million people that depend on Social Security or Supplemental Security income payments each month, or the 145 million workers who pay into the system, people rely on the Social Security Administration to get the right benefit payment to the right person at the right time. So it is very important that the public know that today, we have completed delivery of the January 2000 check and direct deposit payment files to the Treasury Department. The people that depend on us can rest assured that their payments will arrive on time. In other words, our customers can rely on us in January just as they have for over 60 years.

Our goal all along has been to have a Y2K compliant system ready and tested a year beforehand, so that if other, unanticipated problems arose, they could be resolved quickly and without impacting our customers. And we've done it…and so have our partners, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the United States Postal Service.

Their support and their commitment have been outstanding. In fact, since last October, all Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments have been made through Year 2000 compliant systems at both SSA and Treasury. The tapes that have been sent to the Treasury Department to generate the upcoming January direct deposit payments have been checked and certified for accuracy, and the checks that will go to beneficiaries who still receive paper checks have already been printed. At SSA, we are Y2K OK.

Let me share with you why we at SSA are so confident about our ability to delivery on our promise to the American people that payments will be there on time. SSA depends on its information systems to support critical business functions. Since we are so dependent on information technology, we took the Year 2000 problem very seriously.

For us, it began back in 1989 when we realized that we were facing a systems calendar "glitch" that could cause our computers to break down or shut down. We immediately began taking steps to avoid any such problem that would affect our ability to honor our commitment to our customers. Since then, we have reexamined our entire information technology infrastructure….our hardware, software and telecommunications networks…to ensure there are no Year 2000 problems. To reach this point, we literally had to examine every software line individually to see if change was needed. This monumental undertaking involved reviewing 308 mission critical computer systems, supported by more than 35 million lines of computer code.

We also have almost 2,000 data exchanges with our business partners, such as State governments, the IRS, Treasury and the Federal Reserve. All have been certified as Y2K compliant. Fortunately, we began early and finished early. Thanks to the work of nearly 2,000 SSA systems employees, including 700 programmers, we're prepared for the Year 2000.

To ensure that we are aware of what is happening around the country and around the world with regard to Y2K, we have taken some important steps that will allow us to respond to any potential problem. For example, in the final days before the end of 1999, and in the first few weeks of the Year 2000, SSA will operate our own Command Center out of our headquarters in Baltimore. Our home center will be directed linked to this facility here in Washington. From December 30th to January 3rd, our personnel will inspect, evaluate and report on the status of every Social Security office across the country. And just before midnight on December 31, Social Security's main data center in Baltimore will switch to jet fuel generators until the power company notifies the agency that everything is fine. We are taking every precaution to ensure that our service to the American public is not compromised by the Y2K issue.

Immediately after the century rollover at midnight, our teams will begin assessing our systems' readiness to process transactions for the year 2000. Later that day, staff at selected offices will begin to enter data, and we also will begin testing our national #800 telephone service.

Throughout New Year's Day, Social Security managers will report to their offices to inspect equipment and report their findings to regional offices which will forward data to the command center in Baltimore.

Besides assessing SSA's infrastructure readiness, our command center will communicate with non-SSA sites, such as the Treasury Command Center, to make sure we're aware of problems that might be experienced elsewhere.

We'll be advising the White House Information Coordination Center, the Congress and the media regarding our status. Then, on January 3rd, Social Security will be open for business as usual.

In the unlikely event that there are any unforeseen problems, SSA also has contingency plans to deal with such emergencies as inclement weather, natural disasters, accidents or equipment failure. We have developed a plan to ensure continuity of our business processes by identifying, assessing, managing and mitigating Y2K risks. While I don't have the time to detail all of these, let me give you the most compelling example…the one our customers will be most concerned about…payment disruption.

In the unlikely event of payment disruptions, all 1,300 Social Security offices will be able to issue immediate benefit payments to recipients in dire need. The Treasury Department will issue replacement checks. We know that our job is not done until every Social Security payment is in the hands of our beneficiaries.

As Commissioner of Social Security, I am proud that our contingency plan is being used as a model by both other government agencies and the private sector.

If, after I'm done speaking, you have any questions about contingency plans or anything else related to our Y2K readiness, I have brought our Y2K expert; the man who is going to make it happen; Dean Mesterharm, our Deputy Commissioner for Systems. His component is the one that has been working on our Y2K readiness for over 10 years now.

We want the public to understand that we are prepared for the Year 2000 conversion. We want people to have accurate information, and we want to avoid misinformation and its related confusion that could generate overwhelming workloads, which could cause disruptions.

We appreciate your help in making the American public aware of the actions that Social Security and other federal agencies have taken to prepare for the Year 2000.

The bottom line is that we're ready, we're willing and we're able to enter the next century with the confidence that we'll be able to provide the world-class service that the American public has come to expect from the Social Security Administration and its employees. Even though the century will change, our dependability won't. Enjoy the countdown to the New Year knowing that you can count on Social Security.

Thank you, and I'll open it up to questions now.



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