Sep 8, 2015

ALJ Removed For Low Productivity

     Mark Shapiro was hired by the Social Security Administration as an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in 1997. Throughout his career as an ALJ Shapiro failed to meet agency productivity standards. He averaged about 10-12 decisions a month while the agency was expecting around 50 a month. Shapiro was given additional training and many warnings but his productivity remained low. Finally, the agency asked the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) to remove Shapiro from his position as an ALJ. The MSPB agreed to remove Shapiro from his job. Shapiro appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That Court has affirmed the MSRP decision.
     My view is that the agency standard of 50 or more decisions a month is somewhat too high. However, 10-12 decisions a month is way too low. I don't know what Shapiro's problem was but he had no business being an ALJ. My advice for any ALJ struggling to get out, let's say, 35 decisions a month, is to find something else to do. ALJ positions aren't some calling from God. They're jobs. It's not a job for everybody. Life is too short to spend years working at a job you aren't cut out for.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well past time for the agency to de throne outlier ALJs. Everyone else in the agency has adjudicative standards, (Appeals Council is the pathetic exception). No reason it should have taken a decade to show this one the door.Perhaps the same scrutiny and termination can be applied to those outliers who for decades deny over 85% of cases, or who abuse claimants and representatives with impunity.

Anonymous said...

This is a rare instance that I toally agree w Chuck.
@ 9:40 AM, and outliers who pay 85% of cases...

Anonymous said...

940- the AC doesn't have production standards? What?

Anonymous said...

Just to keep the numbers in perspective, here is the testimony of BHA Director Robert Trachtenberg to Congress in the Fall of 1975:"It is very tough. it is a pressurized atmosphere to issue 20 decisions a month....Twenty cases a month is a heavy workload. It is a lot of pressure. It is a lot of overtime....When I first arrived we were somewhere between 14 and 15 cases." Delays in Social Security Appeals, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Social Security of the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives,94th Congress, 1st session, September 19, 26; October 3, 20, 1975, pp.50, 51.

Anonymous said...

50 is a ridiculous number and the fact that some ALJs achieve well over that just raises concerns for the depth of analysis being applied. Maybe I spend way more time than an ALJ reviewing a file, but I can't see how a thorough review can be conducted in less than 2 hours and some may take 4-5. If you then factor in an hour to do the hearing, the time it takes to issue instructions, read and edit the decision, read all the AC and USDC remands issued, deal with pre and post hearing issues in cases, the time just isn't there.

ALJs are clearly cutting corners in the review of the decision department (which I don't mind as my USDC practice is doing very well at present) and I am guessing the level of review of the record is not as thorough as it really should be.

Anonymous said...

To ANON –10:35 AM
The AC doesn't have production standards? What?

Sad but true…
OIG noted no clear workload goals in March 2014 http://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/A-12-13-13039.pdf

Result? AC has done nothing. No accountability. Total waste of SSA budget IMO.

From the OIG report - While OAO established numerical productivity goals for analysts, it did not establish similar productivity goals for AC adjudicators, although it did have timeliness goals for its adjudicators. In FY 2012, AAJ annual dispositions ranged from 780 to 3,471 cases. We found a similar range with AO adjudicators. The lack of productivity goals and caps for AAJs or AOs, particularly given the wide range in the number of dispositions each AAJ and AO issued, increases the risk that OAO may miss opportunities to increase production as well as identify potential quality issues. Finally, while OAO executives had created internal, division-level productivity goals for every DPA division and communicated those goals with OAO managers, some managers and staff were confused as to how those internal goals were determined. …We also found the quality review lacked a monitoring system to identify trends and collectively they did not cover all parts of the AC workload.
Nonetheless, [we ]believe publishing clear workload goals, setting uniform adjudicator productivity goals and caps, and establishing well-documented quality processes will assist the AC in the future. While SSA had an APT goal for AC workloads in prior years, SSA ended its annual reporting on APT in FY 2012. In addition, the lack of productivity goals and caps for AAJs or AOs … We also found initiative workgroups did not produce written reports and the reviews did not cover all parts of the AC workload.

Anonymous said...

12:59 is right that ALJs are cutting corners on review of cases, especially pre-hearing. Since the staff in ODARs don't review cases, it all falls to the ALJs (NHCs have a different set-up.) 50 cases a month is too many when you factor in pre-hearing review, hearing, deciding, reading/signing the decision -- and all those other things such as staff meetings, training, time off for vacation or going to the doctor, etc. Actually, Charles, 35 would be about right for ALJs who actually want to know what's in the file.
ALJ Shapiro was a high payer, too, approving more than 70%. So SSA had double the reasons to show him the door.

Anonymous said...

Fine, show the door to the high payers,

BUT,

Also show the door to the low payers at well. It could mean life or death to deny a legitimate case!

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the AC have unofficial production standards that cap the grant review rate at about 18%? AOs do something like 15 denials a day, which amounts to spending less than 1/2 hour per case when taking into consideration lunch breaks.