Terrie Gruber was recently appointed to head Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). The agency's Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) work at ODAR. Gruber spoke today at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) conference in Denver. I am not attending this conference but I'm told by someone who is attending that Gruber told those attending the NOSSCR meeting that ODAR would begin to reduce its hearing backlog in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 which begins on October 1, 2016. She thought the agency could eliminate the hearing backlog by FY 2020. She said "We can't hire our way out of this."
First, ODAR could definitely hire its way out of the backlog if it were given enough money. It's just that there's no prospect of this happening. Second, it would be a big step forward if ODAR could just keep the backlog from growing in the current FY. I don't know how likely this is. ODAR would need a lot of money for overtime and it would need permission to aggressively use the Senior Attorney program and to encourage ALJs to issue on the record reversals. They would also need the cooperation of other components of the agency for a strong re-recon program. I'm not going to explain Senior Attorney, re-recon and on the record reversals here. Let's just say that these are ways of diverting strong cases for special reviews which can result in the strongest claims being approved quickly. To do this, the agency will have to get over its fear of being accused of paying down the backlog. Gruber has said things to the Washington Post indicating the agency is getting past this concern but we'll have to see what actually happens on the ground. Finally, talk of eliminating the backlog by 2020 is almost pathetic. I'm sure that there's plenty of desire to do so. Given the means, I'm sure the agency will do so. It's just that achieving this goal will take plenty of hiring which takes money and no one can fully predict the agency's operating budget for the current FY much less its operating budget for FY 2020.