I had time over the weekend to watch the hearing held last week by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Operations on Social Security's plan to bring in some Administrative Appeals Judges (AAJs) to hold some hearings now being held by Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). The Committee members asked thoughtful questions but I have some questions that I wished they had asked:
- Will AAJ decisions be subject to quality assurance reviews either before or after the decision is issued?
- What productivity does Social Security expect from these AAJs, especially considering the travel they will be doing?
- Will all the AAJs be located in the Falls Church, VA area where the Appeals Council is located or will some be located around the country?
- Hearing non-disability cases, especially those other than overpayment cases, takes unusual knowledge. Will there be extraordinary training for these AAJs? Do not assume that even experienced Social Security attorneys have this knowledge because they don't.
- Social Security indicates that geographic limitations imposed by ALJ applicants make it difficult for them to hire. Many applicants may want to work in some offices while few, if any, want to work in other offices. However, a new, much larger register is due out in about a year. Presumably, there will then be multiple candidates for each office with an opening. Why not just hire ALJs now where you can and then hire later for the other offices for which you currently lack candidates? It's not like there's an oversupply of ALJs anywhere.
- Social Security says that currently 30% of claimants opt out of video hearings. Isn't that still going to require AAJs to do a lot of traveling, doing one hearing at one location, then getting on a plane to another location to do one more hearing?
- Will the opt out figure stay at 30% if Social Security goes ahead with this plan? Social Security has a history of short-sighted thinking on this issue. They thought that requiring claimants to opt out of video hearings shortly after filing a request for hearing would result in fewer claimants opting out of video hearings but the exact opposite happened. I expect there are many attorneys now who don't bother opting out of video hearings since they think it unlikely that Social Security would try to schedule video hearings for their clients. Go ahead with this plan and attorney behavior may change. Maybe I'm wrong on this but I correctly guessed that requiring claimants to opt out of video hearings shortly after filing a request for hearing would result in more claimants opting out of video hearings.