Jun 30, 2014

No Comment Department

     A press release from Social Security:
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has published the plan for the Customer Service Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal on the performance.gov website.  This CAP Goal is one of 15 CAP Goals developed to support President Obama’s management agenda.  Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, serves as a Goal Leader with Lisa Danzig, the Associate Director for Personnel and Performance at OMB.
“Customer service is part of our DNA here at Social Security, and we are happy to provide leadership in this important area,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin.  “For all the federal agencies that interact with citizens or businesses, our customers expect and deserve world-class customer service.  Through this CAP Goal, we renew our commitment to improve service to the American people.”
Staff from Social Security and OMB identified the high-level CAP Goal strategies after consulting with dozens of other federal agencies and external organizations. 
Highlights of the plan include:
  • An online and in-person network that federal employees anywhere can join and share ideas and tools for improving customer satisfaction
  • A nationwide award program for teams and individuals who excel at customer service
  • A better way to improve transparency and measure customer satisfaction across the federal government
For more information on the CAP goal, please click here http://www.performance.gov/node/3400/view?view=public#progress-update

Jun 29, 2014

Colvin May Be Pleasing Republicans More Than Democrats

     The Baltimore Sun thinks that Carolyn Colvin, Social Security's Acting Commissioner and nominee to become Commissioner for real, will face the most pressing questions from Democrats during her confirmation hearing.

Jun 28, 2014

Take A Look At This

     See the comment someone just made on my post about the delay in the Trustee's report. I know this is anonymous but still ...

Even Those Accused Of Doing Bad Things Are Entitled To Due Process

     From a recent addition to Social Security's HALLEX manual:
Under sections 205(u) and 1631(e)(7) of the Social Security Act (Act), the Social Security Administration (SSA) must immediately redetermine the entitlement of individuals to monthly disability benefits if there is reason to believe that fraud or similar fault was involved in the individual's application for such benefits. A redetermination is a re-adjudication of the individual's application for benefits, based on the agency's finding that fraud or similar fault was involved in an individual's application for monthly disability benefits. The agency may be required to initiate a redetermination based on an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) referral of information pursuant to section 1129(l) of the Act or information from a criminal prosecutor with jurisdiction over potential or actual related criminal cases. ... 
The Deputy Commissioner of ODAR will determine which ODAR component is designated to redetermine the affected case(s). ... 
Based on OIG [Office of Inspector General] referrals of information pursuant to section 1129(l) of the Act or information obtained through other criminal, congressional, or administrative investigation, the agency may direct an ODAR adjudicator to disregard certain evidence.
     There are a couple of problems here. Administrative Law Judges are required to be assigned to hear cases in rotation insofar as practical. If Social Security gets to decide which "component" gets to hear a case isn't Social Security getting to decide which ALJ hears the case? Social Security could assign the case to the Anchorage hearing office with its 14% reversal rate for instance.  If the agency wants to set up some special cadre of judges selected using some neutral criteria to hear these cases that's one thing but that's not what they're talking about. Second, Social Security gets to decide which evidence the ALJ can and can't hear? Are you kidding me? Did anyone at Social Security give serious consideration to how this might look to a federal court? 

Jun 27, 2014

Off The Shelf

     Social Security has posted a "Request for Information" seeking "sources capable of providing a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software solution designed to help detect and analyze sophisticated cases of fraud, waste, and abuse."
     Because, of course, such "sophisticated cases of fraud, waste and abuse" must exist and it must be possible to find them using a computer program.

Jun 26, 2014

Congressman Introduces Bill To Halt Service Cuts -- It's Going Nowhere

     A Democratic Congressman from Iowa is introducing legislation which would require that Social Security continue offering Social Security number printouts and benefits verification letters at the agency's field offices. Of course, the legislation has no chance of advancing.
     Update: And Senator Grassley (R-IA) expresses his concern. Undoubtedly, he blames Social Security management. It couldn't possibly be Social Security's appropriation.

Jun 25, 2014

10th Circuit Rules In Favor Of Same Sex Marriage -- How Many States Will This Affect?

     The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision of a District Court that struck down Utah's law banning same sex marriages. Undoubtedly, the state of Utah will ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. In the meantime, they'll ask that the decision be stayed. If the Supreme Court refuses to grant a stay, it's a pretty good sign that the Court will affirm and all states will have to allow same sex marriages.
     Where does this leave Social Security? The agency has a policy on application of decisions of the Courts of Appeals. However, that policy only concerns interpretations of the Social Security Act. This is the Constitution being interpreted, not the Social Security Act. I don't think that Social Security has any policy on this. In any case, it's clear that this will be the Department of Justice's call, not Social Security's. At a minimum, if the decision of the 10th Circuit decision isn't stayed, this will have to be applied throughout the 10th Circuit area, which is Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. Would the Department of Justice decide to apply this beyond the 10th Circuit since the Administration would be in agreement and there is no conflicting decision of a Court of Appeals? What if we have three or four other Courts of Appeals coming down with similar decisions over the next three months? Would the Department of Justice then say to apply this nationally?

Newspaper Wants Conn Out Of Social Security Cases

     An editorial in the Lexington, KY Herald-Leader calls for Social Security to bar Eric Conn, who has been accused of unethical conduct, from practicing before the agency. However, the paper notes that Kentucky politicians don't seem concerned about Conn.

"An Air Of Surprising Passivity" In The Face Of Harsh Budget Cuts?

     From R.J. Eskow:
Despite the fact that a Democratic president is running the Executive Branch, the Social Security Administration appears to be accepting the harsh budget cuts imposed upon it by Congress with an air of surprising passivity. This is puzzling. Social Security is an enormously successful and popular program. Historically only conservative Republicans have urged cuts to its administrative budget. Those cuts are already frustrating the public and undermining public confidence in the program. ...
And yet, these needless and harmful cuts are being accepted as a fait accompli by both the NAPA panel and the Social Security Administration itself. The SSA's "Agency Strategic Plan for 2014-2018,"  which is published where the "strategic vision" document might logically be found, glosses over current and impending staffing reductions with language like this: "In the coming years, as we prepare for more employee retirements and continued budget constraints, we will develop and implement a strong succession plan to prepare for the new skills, competencies and work styles of a leaner, modern Federal workforce."
English translation: We are downsizing for budget reasons but would rather not say too much about it. ...
The fact that neither the SSA, the Administration, nor the President himself are publicly fighting these brutal cuts is a betrayal of Social Security's promise.  ...

Jun 24, 2014

Today's Office Closure News

     Local officials in Northern Erie County, NY are so upset by the closing of Social Security's Amherst, NY field office that they're setting up a link to the nearest Social Security field office via Skype at a local government site. The site will only be open a few hours, one or two days a week but locals it's better than nothing. The Amherst field office had served 36,000 people a year.
     Meanwhile, the Salem News wonders why it is that Social Security gets more money each year and claims to be getting more efficient but is still closing field offices. They conclude that no one should be surprised because "It is the federal government, after all." The Salem News misses a few points. Social Security's budget hasn't been going up each year. It's been going down when you consider inflation even though the agency's workload has gone up dramatically because of the aging of the baby boom population but, hey, what are a few details like that?

Forcing Video Hearings On Claimants

     From a notice that Social Security will post in the Federal Register tomorrow:
In this final rule, before we assign an ALJ to the case or before we schedule a hearing, we will notify a claimant that he or sh e has the right to object to appearing at the hearing by video teleconferencing. If the claimant objects to appearing at the hearing by video teleconferencing, the claimant must tell us in writing within 30 days after the date he or she receives the notice, unless he or she shows good cause for missing the deadline. If we receive a timely objection, or we find there was good cause for missing the deadline, we will schedule the claimant for an in person hearing, with one limited exception. If a claimant moves to a different residence while his or her request for a hearing is pending, we will determine whether the claimant will appear in person or by video teleconferencing, even if the claimant previously objected to appearing by video teleconferencing. In addition, in order for us to consider a change in residence when scheduling a hearing, the claimant must submit evidence verifying a new residence. After we receive evidence regarding the claimant’s new residence, we will decide how the claimant’s appearance will be made.

Jun 23, 2014

What Happened In Augusta?

     Social Security closed a hearing office in Augusta, GA, leaving a building that the government is leasing vacant. The local paper is wondering about the waste of money.

It's All A Matter Of Priorities

     123 members of Congress have signed on to a letter asking that Social Security field offices resume issuing copies of Social Security numbers (Numi-lites) and benefit verification statements. There's no mention in the letter of the services that these members of Congress are willing to see stopped so that Numi-lite and benefit verification statements can be resumed. It's a zero sum world when it comes to service at Social Security. The agency doesn't have enough operating funds to do everything it ought to do. Any service that's being dropped is being dropped to allow the continuation of other services deemed to be more vital. You can argue about the priorities but you can't argue that Social Security should cut no service.

Even The Wall Street Journal

     Even the Wall Street Journal is talking about Social Security being short-handed!

Jun 22, 2014

The Perils Of The Disability Trust Fund

     NBC has a story on the predicted exhaustion of Social Security's Disability Trust Fund and what may happen then. The author has tried to present all sides of the issue but misses one, the view that the Disability Trust Fund is doing better than predicted and will either require only a very small, very temporary rescue or no rescue at all. 

Jun 20, 2014

Colvin Gets Nomination To Become Commissioner Of Social Security

     The President has nominated Carolyn Colvin to become the next Commissioner of Social Security. Colvin was confirmed as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security in 2011. That term has ended but she may remain in office until a successor is confirmed. She became Acting Commissioner when Michael Astrue resigned as Commissioner last year. Colvin will remain as Acting Commissioner until she is confirmed. No one has yet been nominated to become Deputy Commissioner.

Still Crazy After A Year; New Policy On Same Sex Marriages

     The Justice Department has finally advised Social Security on how it must treat same sex marriages. It only took them a year after the Windsor decision! Social Security has been recognizing same sex marriages ever since Windsor as long as the parties to the marriage live in a state that recognizes same sex marriage but has been putting a hold on cases where the parties live in a state that doesn't recognize same sex marriages. The Justice Department has now told Social Security that it may recognize same sex marriages if a party to the marriage gets on benefits based upon that marriage while living in a state that recognizes same sex marriages but then moves to a state that doesn't recognize same sex marriages. As an example, let's say a same sex couple from my state, North Carolina, which doesn't recognize same sex marriages, travels to the District of Columbia where they can be legally married. The couple returns to North Carolina and eventually one of them applies for Social Security benefits based upon that marriage. Under this policy, they won't get the benefits. They would if they had stayed in the District. However, if they had lived in the District after the marriage and one of them had gotten benefits based upon the marriage and then they had moved to North Carolina, they could keep their benefits. This sounds crazy enough but it gets worse. What if they get married in the District but later separate, with one living in the District but the other in North Carolina and only become eligible for benefits after the move? Under this policy, the one who stays in the District is married and can get benefits based upon the marriage but the one who moves to North Carolina isn't married and can't get benefits based upon the marriage.
     This is nuts. Either the Supreme Court must decide that people have a Constitutional right to marry a person of their same gender or Congress needs to pass a law requiring that Social Security accept same sex marriages nationally. What we've got now is unworkable.

Social Security Has A Massive Service Delivery Problem

     From a report by the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Aging (footnotes omitted):
The impact of these service reductions [at Social Security] has been felt in field office waiting rooms and on the phone. In March 2013, SSA [Social Security Administration] estimated that in a single week nearly 12,000 visitors to field offices would have to wait over two hours to be served, a figure that had almost tripled in the previous four months. Between FY [Fiscal Year] 2010 and January of FY 2013, the average wait time for field office visitors without appointments increased by 40 percent. NCSSMA [National Council of Social Security Management Associations] reports that in FY 2013, the percentage of visitors who waited over three weeks for an appointment was over 43 percent, compared to only 10 percent a year earlier. According to NCSSMA, as of early 2014, the average wait time for visitors to SSA’s field offices was 31.5 minutes, an all - time high and 240 percent longer than it was three years ago.
From FY 2011 to FY 2013, the agent busy rate experienced by callers to SSA’s 800 - number increased from 3 percent to 12 percent, with SSA projecting that in FY 2014, 14 percent of callers would get a busy signal when they tried to call. In the beginning of FY 2014, 800-number callers who were able to get through were waiting an average of over 17 minutes – more than three times as long as the average waits of five minutes in FY 2012, according to NCSSMA ...

It Must Be Obama's Fault!

     From Bloomberg:
The cost of long-term disability claims rose for at least a fifth straight year as expenses tied to the aging workforce drove payments higher for insurance companies. ...
“On average, older people have higher wages and it’s harder for them to get back to work,” [Council for Disability Awareness] CDA President Barry Lundquist said in a phone interview. “When you think about the baby boomers and how old they are now, they have a much higher chance of becoming disabled -- maybe a four or five times higher chance in a given year than someone that’s in their twenties or thirties.”
      Why would private insurance companies be unable to hold down their long term disability costs? I thought that was just a problem for the Social Security Administration. How do Republicans spin this as being Obama's fault?

Jun 19, 2014

Press Attention For Senate Hearing

     Yesterday's hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Aging on the decline of service at Social Security has received plenty of media coverage.

Why Service Sucks At Social Security

     An extract from the written testimony of Scott Hale, the President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), to the Senate Select Committee on Aging:
     Here are the abbreviations used:
  • TSCs -- Teleservice Centers -- where the 800 number phone calls go
  • ODAR -- Office of Disability Adjudication and Review -- where the Administrative Law Judges work
  • PSCs -- Program Service Centers -- where benefits, other than Supplemental Security Income, are computed and authorized
  • SSA -- Social Security Administration
  • FO -- Field Office -- your local Social Security office

Jun 18, 2014

Apropos Today's Hearing

     The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration. By the way, I'm not posting these numbers just because of today's hearing. OPM just released this report.
  • March 2014 60,820
  • December 2013 61,957
  • September 2013 62,543
  • June 2013 62,877
  • March 2013 63,777
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2012 65,113
  • September 2011 67,136
  • December 2010 70,270
  • December 2009 67,486
  • September 2009 67,632
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990
  • September 2007 62,407
  • September 2006 63,647
  • September 2005 66,147
  • September 2004 65,258
  • September 2003 64,903
  • September 2002 64,648
  • September 2001 65,377
  • September 2000 64,521

Field Office Closures And Staffing Reductions To Be Subject Of Senate Hearing

     From the New York Times:
The Social Security Administration is closing field offices and reducing services to the public even as demand for those services surges with the aging of the baby boom generation, according to a bipartisan Senate committee report.
The report, to be issued Wednesday by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, says the agency has closed more than two dozen field offices in the last year, generally without considering the needs of communities and without consulting beneficiaries or field office managers. ...
The Social Security Administration is closing field offices and reducing services to the public even as demand for those services surges with the aging of the baby boom generation, according to a bipartisan Senate committee report.
The report, to be issued Wednesday by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, says the agency has closed more than two dozen field offices in the last year, generally without considering the needs of communities and without consulting beneficiaries or field office managers. ...
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the senior Republican on the committee, said that despite a growing caseload, “in the past five years, Social Security has closed 64 of approximately 1,245 field offices — the largest field office reduction in its history — and shuttered 533 temporary mobile offices.”
      Members of Congress get very upset by field office closures -- and they are a big deal -- but the bigger problem is inadequate staffing at the remaining field offices, teleservice centers, payment centers, hearing offices and the Appeals Council. That affects everyone who interacts with Social Security, not just those who live in areas where a field office has closed and everyone eventually interacts with Social Security.
     The Aging Committee is holding a hearing this afternoon at 2:15 on this issue. Here's the witness list:
  • Tammy DeLong, Aroostook Area Agency on Aging
  • Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration
  • Scott Hale, President, National Council of Social Security Management Associations
  • Brenda Holt, Commissioner, Gadsden County

Jun 16, 2014

Where Is The Trustees Report?

     Each year Social Security's Trustees release a report projecting the trust funds into the future. Basically, this is all the Trustees do and they really don't do the projecting themselves. It's done by Social Security's actuaries. Last year the report was issued on the Friday before Memorial Day. I think that was the latest it had ever been released. There was criticism over the late release. We're well beyond Memorial Day and there's no sign of the report. I have no idea what's going on but I'll guess that the delay isn't being caused by Social Security's actuaries. I expect their part was done several months ago. Maybe the delay is caused by wrangling over the verbiage that the Trustees add to the projections. Maybe the problem is the Medicare Trustees report which is released at the same time. Anyway, it's time for the report.

Jun 15, 2014

New Data Center Nearly Finished

     From Federal News Radio:
The Social Security Administration's new data center is almost finished after nearly two years....
 "We are merely a month and a half away from where we take possession of the new building. The building, itself, has come in under schedule and under budget, and at high quality. So we will begin the migration once we have the keys to start moving services over to the new data center," said Bill Zielinski, the Social Security Administration's chief information officer. "We are really looking forward to that time when we can take advantage of all the things the new technology will provide us."

Jun 14, 2014

A New Use For A Vacated Social Security Building?

     From CBS-DC:
Baltimore may soon be the home to hundreds of illegal immigrant children who were taken into custody at the border.
WBFF-TV reports that the former Social Security building, which has been vacant for months, could be designated to house hundreds of children crossing the border illegally with no adult supervision.

Jun 12, 2014

First Step Towards A Senate Appropriations Bill

     A Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee has reported out an appropriations bill covering the Social Security Administration. Here's an excerpt from the Subcommittee summary:
Preventing Improper Social Security PaymentsThe Committee recommendation includes $1,396,000,000 for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to conduct continuing disability reviews and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) redeterminations of non-medical eligibility, a $199,000,000 increase over the FY 2014 level. These periodic reviews ensure that individuals receiving Social Security disability benefits are still eligible to receive them. ...
Social Security Administration (SSA)—The Committee recommendation includes $11,921,040,000, a $224,000,000 increase, for SSA's administrative expenses. In FY 2015, SSA will administer approximately $950 billion in benefit payments to approximately 66 million Americans, SSA will process approximately 5.3 million retirement applications and 2.8 million disability applications, and SSA will provide services for over 40 million visitors to its field offices and 47 million callers to its 1-800 number. This increase in funding will help SSA keep pace with rising costs and improve basic services to the public that millions of Americans rely on every day.
     How does an 1.9% increase keep pace with rising costs much less improve service? Does the $199 million increase for preventing improper payments come out of the $224 million increase for Social Security generally? If so, there's no increase for general operations. Inflation is at a low level but it's not non-existent.
     And remember, this is the Senate with a Democratic majority. The House Appropriations bill, IF the House can produce one, will be much worse.

Hearing On Threat To Face To Face Service

     The Senate Special Committee on Aging has scheduled a hearing for June 18 on the threat to reduce or eliminate face to face service at Social Security.

Jun 11, 2014

Do People Retire At Age 62 Because They Want To Retire Or Because They're Sick

     From the Squared Away Blog of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
Are people who claim their Social Security retirement benefits when they’re 62 too sick or impaired to work? ...
 [R]esearchers, from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, examined Medicare claims from 1991 through 2008 for the four groups during the year following their 65th birthdays. They found no evidence of persistent health problems that would have kept the 62-year-olds from continuing to work for a few more years. ...
Controlling for race, sex, education and other factors that have a bearing on health, the $287 annual difference in Medicare claims between people who started receiving retirement benefits at 62 and at 65 was not significant. Similarly, the healthcare spending of people who received disability benefits and those who were rejected was virtually the same.
But there was a large gap between the group who claimed a retirement benefit at 62 and the group on disability: Medicare claims for disability recipients were $4,400 more annually than the claims for early pensioners. 
It’s important to note that this analysis doesn’t capture any differences in healthcare spending that may’ve occurred prior to age 65.
     Because of the methodology problem indicated in the last paragraph quoted above, I don't think we can call this study definitive.

Jun 10, 2014

Unthinkable Interference With ALJ Independence

     From the Associated Press:
Amid complaints about lengthy waits for Social Security disability benefits, congressional investigators say nearly 200 administrative judges have been rubber-stamping claims, approving billions of dollars in lifetime payments from the cash-strapped program. ...
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was incredulous that so many judges would rule that initial rejections were so often wrong.
"Are the people below you always wrong?" Issa asked Judge Charles Bridges of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
"I would say they are not legally trained," replied Bridges, who approved 95 percent of the cases he decided.
When pressed further about his approval rate, Bridges said: "I don't pay attention to those figures. All I do is concentrate on each case, one at a time."
Issa: "You don't notice that you're essentially saying 'approved, approved, approved,' almost all the time?"
Bridges: "I don't want to be influenced by that."
The committee's report found that 191 judges approved more than 85 percent of the cases they decided from 2005 to 2013. All told, those judges approved $153 billion in lifetime benefits, the report said.
     At some point in the future, I can't say when, Democrats will control the House of Representatives.  Should they hold hearings then and browbeat ALJs with low reversal rates?

Don't Cut Social Security, Increase It!

     From Greg Sergent writing for the Washington Post:
The idea has long remained outside the boundaries of acceptable Beltway discourse, but more and more Dems are coming around to it: Instead of getting drawn onto GOP austerity turf — into a debate over how much to cut Social Security — Dems should instead go on offense on the issue and push for an expansion of the program.
Today, I’m told, Senate Democrats will introduce a proposal to expand Social Security benefits for certain groups — and it is picking up the support of a member of the Democratic leadership, Senator Patty Murray of Washington State. Senator Mark Begich of Alaska will take the lead on the proposal, and he and Murry will speak about it on the Senate floor this afternoon. ...
The framing reflects a growing sense among Dems that they can win the argument over entitlements by framing it as a battle over which party would boost the retirement security of the elderly, and which would erode it.

Totally Irrelevant Way Of Responding To Today's Congressional Hearing

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved the following change in Social Security's regulations:
We will revise our rules to protect the integrity of our programs and to address public concerns regarding the removal of an administrative law judge's name from the Notice of Hearing and other prehearing notices. To accomplish both objectives, these final rules state that we will provide an individual with notice that his or her hearing may be held by video teleconferencing and that he or she has an opportunity to object to appearing by video teleconferencing within 30 days of the notice. We have also made changes that allow us to determine that claimant will appear via video teleconferencing if a claimant changes residences while his or her request for hearing is pending. We anticipate these changes will increase the integrity of our programs with minimal impact on the public and result in more efficient administration of our program.  
     Expect to see this in the Federal Register soon. I have no doubt that clearing this is a response to today's Congressional hearing. This has zero to do with the subject of the hearing but doing something anti-claimant must just feel right to Social Security and OMB in this climate.

Conflicting Views On ALJs

     From the Associated Press:
Four Social Security judges are headed to Capitol Hill to face accusations they rubber-stamped claims for disability benefits, approving billions of dollars in payments from the cash-strapped program.
Each of the judges approved more than 90 percent of the cases they heard from 2005 to 2013, according to a new report by the Republican staff of the House Oversight Committee. The report says the high approval rates indicate the judges didn't follow proper procedures or conduct meaningful hearings. ...
A report by the committee's Democratic staff said the judges at Tuesday's hearing don't reflect the vast majority of administrative law judges. The Democratic report says oversight and training for the agency's 1,400 judges has improved over the past decade.
Both reports note that, overall, judges are approving claims at the lowest rate in years. In 2013, judges approved 56 percent of the cases they decided, down from 72 percent in 2005. ...

Jun 9, 2014

This Congressional Hearing Would Have Been Unthinkable Five Years Ago

     Here is the witness list for tomorrow's hearing before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, with the reversal rate for the Administrative Law Judges in parentheses:
  • Tom Coburn, M.D. Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs United States Senate 
  • Charles Bridges Administrative Law Judge, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (80% reversal rate)
  • James A. Burke Administrative Law Judge, Albuquerque, New Mexico (87% reversal rate)
  • Gerald I. Krafsur Administrative Law Judge, Kingsport, Tennessee (96% reversal rate)
  • Harry C. Taylor II Administrative Law Judge, Charleston, West Virginia (83% reversal rate)
     Commissioner Colvin is the only scheduled witness at the hearing on Wednesday.

HALLEX Gets Columbia Law Review Attention

     Timothy Gray has written a note for the Columbia Law Review on Manual Override?Accardi, Skidmore, And The Legal Effect Of The Social Security Administration’s HALLEX Manual.

Jun 8, 2014

Jun 6, 2014

OIG Receives Many Allegations But Few Pan Out

     An excerpt from the annual report of Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Jun 5, 2014

Social Security Has Had A Website For Twenty Years

     Social Security launched its first website on May 17, 1994. The current website gets more than 17 million hits a month on its 45,000+ pages.

Jun 4, 2014

Whoa! OMB Goofed!

     Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) website showed that Social Security's proposal that would force more claimants into video hearings had been withdrawn while another Social Security proposal on minimum monthly withholding for recovery of overpayments was still pending at OMB. Today, the website shows the reverse. The proposal on forcing claimants into video hearings is still pending while the overpayment recovery proposal has been withdrawn. Looks like OMB goofed!

SSA Needs Adequate Operating Funds To Prevent Improper Payments

     From Dean Baker writing for Huffington Post:
The media have been rightly focusing their attention on the long waiting lists for veterans seeking medical care, and even worse, the Department of Veteran's Affairs cover-up. ...
Unfortunately the VA system is not the only part of the government where essential services may be threatened by cutbacks. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has recently disclosed plans for a major downsizing that will result in the closing of many more of its field offices. The goal is to handle the bulk of Social Security's requests, questions, and complaints through the Internet....
Last year, the Washington Post ran a major front-page article over the fact that 0.006 percent of Social Security benefits in the prior three years had been paid out to dead people. Of course the Post never told readers that the amount in question amounted to less than one hundredth of one percent of benefit payments. Instead it highlighted the size of the mistaken benefits, $133 million, as though it had uncovered a momentous sum that the program was paying out in error. 
There is no reason to expect the opponents of Social Security to be any more honest in the future. Every mistake that the program makes will be highlighted. For this reason, it is not only essential that we minimize the instances where people don't get the benefits to which they are entitled; we should also be concerned that the SSA has the capacity to keep a lid on improper payments.
SSA is already tremendously efficient compared to its private sector counterparts. Administrative costs for the system as whole are just 0.9 percent of benefits. The administrative costs for just the retirement and survivors' portion of the program are 0.5 percent of benefits. Privatized systems in places like the United Kingdom or Chile have costs that are twenty times as high.

Jun 3, 2014

Ruling On Endocrine Disorders

     Last week in my haste to get out of town for a long weekend, I missed the fact that there was a second Social Security Ruling, this one on evaluating endocrine disorders other than diabetes.

Thank You, OMB!

     Social Security has withdrawn its proposal that would have required claimants to decide shortly after asking for a hearing whether they would demand an in-person hearing rather than accept a video hearing. The proposal would also have denied an in-person hearing if a claimant moved after filing a request for a hearing. Almost certainly, this was withdrawn because of opposition at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a part of the White House. OMB approval is required before regulations may be published in the Federal Register.

Trouble In Social Security's Backyard

     The Baltimore Sun is running a story on the huge backlog of cases awaiting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in the Baltimore, Maryland hearing office. The backlog is now up to 17 months. This has led to bankruptcies, people losing their homes and people dying before being approved. Social Security's headquarters are just outside Baltimore.

Emergency Message On Radford v. Colvin

     Social Security has issued an Emergency Message concerning the decision of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Radford v. Colvin. Emergency Messages generally don't address real emergencies. They're just the agency's way of issuing instructions to its staff. Apparently, an Acquiescence Ruling on Radford is forthcoming. I'm proud to say that Charlotte Hall of my firm represented the claimant in Radford. By the way, despite the similarities in our names, Charlotte and I are not related.

Glad To Have One Champion In The Media

     Michael Hiltzik takes on a conservative who tries to prove that paying Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits to children displays "contempt for the underprivileged" and that cutting these children off disability benefits is the "compassionate" thing to do.

Jun 2, 2014

Where Service Is Headed At ODAR

     It's 109 miles from Deland, the county seat of Volusia County, Florida to Jacksonville, FL yet some of Social Security's Administrative Law Judges have thought that was a reasonable distance to ask a claimant to drive for a hearing. The claimants have been willing to travel to Orlando which is much closer for them but, apparently not for Social Security.

What A Blindingly Obvious And Blindingly Stupid Idea

     From the Washington Post's Wonkblog:

Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla) and John Delaney (D-Md) introduced a bill Friday that would create a bipartisan commission to improve Social Security. 

Cole, a senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, is partnering with Delaney, a junior member of the House elected in 2012, to propose a 13-member Social Security Commission that would have a year to come up with a list of recommendations for improving the program. As it stands, the Social Security Administration has enough funds to pay full benefits through 2033, according to the latest trustees report.
     I call this a blindingly stupid idea because there is zero chance any such commission could reach a consensus and zero chance that this Congress would approve the recommendations of a divided commission. All this could produce is pointless controversy. No Democrat will vote for benefits cuts. No Republican will vote for either tax increases or benefits cuts. And that includes these two Congressmen who apparently believe some magician can come up with another way. They may even be dumb enough to think that private accounts will save Social Security! Any diversion of Social Security revenues to private accounts just makes whatever funding problems there are worse. Anyone who studies the matter for more than 30 seconds realizes that.