I was unable to watch the entire hearing and missed this part. From the
Nearly six years after a top federal official promised improvements in the way disability cases are handled in Harris County, a Social Security administrator told a congressional committee Wednesday that Houstonians get different levels of service depending on which office hears their case.
Under questioning by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue acknowledged that wait times for hearings at an office in far southwest Houston are about 40 percent longer than at the downtown Houston office.
"It's our view that the issue with that office is a human issue," Astrue told the House Ways and Means Committee.
The commissioner chalked up the problem to hard-to-discipline, lifetime appointees.
He described three of the 11 administrative law judges in the southwestern office on Bissonnet as "historically very unproductive."
Calls to the Bissonnet office were referred to an administration spokesman, Mark Hinkle, who confirmed Astrue's testimony.
Hinkle would not give any further information, including the names of the judges, because, he said, "it is considered internal personnel matters."
The Association of Administrative Law Judges, the judges' professional organization, did not respond to a request for comment. ...
The average time between an appeal and hearing at the southwest office is 522 days, well above the national average of 503 days, the Social Security Administration says.
By contrast, the wait time at the downtown office is 374 days. ...
Under questioning from Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, Astrue said judges nationwide have had "serious misconduct issues and serious productivity issues." ...
"There's no accountability," Astrue said, adding, "Many commissioners have given up trying to discipline administrative law judges."
Brady praised Astrue for his plain speech. "I've never heard a commissioner as candid as he was in identifying a personnel problem," he said after the hearing. "It's refreshingly candid."