SSA asks for bids for voice-over-IP network

The agency plans to pick one contractor to build a single telephony system serving its 1,500 field offices.

The Social Security Administration has launched a program to shift agency offices nationwide to voice-over-IP technology.

On Aug. 11, SSA issued a request for proposals to provide hardware, software and services under the Telephone Systems Replacement Project. The agency plans to pick one contractor to build a single telephony system serving the agency's 1,500 field offices. Some larger operations around the country and abroad will have their own systems.

The VOIP project is part of a larger SSA initiative to gear up its operations to manage a big wave of SSA beneficiaries now on the horizon. The agency "is faced with retiring citizens growing by nearly 1,000 people each day as the baby boomers reach retirement age beginning in 2008," the RFP states.

In anticipation of increased demands on their systems, SSA officials want to update the agency's essential network systems, and they see IP playing an essential role in their plans. The VOIP project "provides an opportunity to converge the two independent networks (data/voice) and at the same time decrease telephone infrastructure maintenance and operations," according to the RFP.

In addition to basic telephone service, the new network will handle such functions as automatic call distribution, interactive voice response operations and voice mail.

Initially, SSA is primarily focused on bringing data and voice onto one network, but eventually the agency hopes to take advantage of integrated data-voice services. SSA officials want bidders to develop an architecture that can keep pace as network technologies and agency requirements evolve.

SSA has conducted two VOIP pilots, working with AT&T and MCI (now Verizon), with the first project beginning in April 2004. In September 2005, the agency began a second pilot, building on the lessons learned in the first. The SSA offices involved in these pilot projects will be shifted over to the agencywide VOIP network once it is ready.