Jun 12, 2017

Caseload Analysis Report

     Posted in the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), which is not available online.
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     Note the large increase in overtime hours beginning in February. Note also that the Senior Attorney decisions are down to a pathetic total of 18 in April! If you want to know whether Social Security is taking its hearing backlog seriously, pay attention to the Senior Attorney decisions. Should Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in 2018, expect that number to soar.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If you want to know whether Social Security is taking its backlog seriously, pay attention to the Senior Attorney decisions."

This is SPOT-ON, and what I, and so many others, have been saying all along. I am SA-27, and observed first hand how successful the original SA Program was when it began in 1995. It is no coincidence my longtime Supervisory Attorney and I were both illegally forced out of our SSA careers of more than 20 years because we were strong, unrelenting advocates for the SA Program, and stood up firmly to so many obviously powerful individuals in the Agency who were against it from the very beginning.

The SA Program was very successful with all the powers SA's had when the Program first began in 1995. There was no, "Paying down the backlog." We aggressively worked with claimants counsel to develop cases we screened and determined could be decided favorably with a little bit of work and development. I have to laugh when I see a total of 18 SA decisions were issued in April 2017, as 18 SA decisions would have been a median number of SA decisions I issued each month alone, in addition to ALJ decisions, not to mention all the time spent dealing with harassment from certain Hearings Office Managers who utterly detested the SA Program in those early years.

Of course, regular readers of this blog know how well this worked out for the two of us. Each of us were highly motivated to become SSA ALJ's, and would have brought a wealth of Agency specific knowledge and experience along with us. But TPTB, many of whom still occupy very high levels in the Agency, targeted us for removal in the most horrendous manner imaginable, i.e., subjecting us to persistent, unspeakable harassment in and outside the office until we had no choice but to leave - utterly forced out.

We were also high producers known for quality of the work we performed. Yet, to this very day, TPTB remain more rigid than ever, and obtusely refuse to learn from the past. UNLESS AND UNTIL THESE INDIVIDUALS WHO OCCUPY SOME OF THE HIGHEST AND MOST POWERFUL POSITIONS IN THE AGENCY ARE REPLACED BY OTHERS THAN THOSE LIKE-MINDED INDIVIDUALS THEY HAVE ALREADY SELECTED TO BE MOVED UP THE LADDER, NOTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE. (Yes, this includes Garmon first and foremost).

Anonymous said...

Oh sure, the democrats did a great job of reducing the backlog during the Obama/Pelosi/Reid takeover. Is weed now legal in NC?

Anonymous said...

@11:36

This is not especially a Republican or Democratic issue, but a Management issue, plain and simple, as I stated @11:02. I believe the dichotomy referenced by Charles has to do with the extreme right wing policies we are seeing pushed by the Trump Administration in contrast to more moderate Republican Administration's. All one need do is look to extreme right wing ideologues Trump has appointed to his Cabinet. Several of these individuals have aggressively advocated against the vet missions of Agency's they are now appointed to lead. This is unprecedented. We have never seen this before.

As for the Democrats, I concur the Obama Administration was not kind to SSA, especially the Disabilty Hearings components. Moreover, his Acting COSS Colvin was not the ideal choice to lead the Agency, as evidenced by her not being confirmed COSS, or renominated. Further, she was an Operations person, and her Administration gave little attention to the Disability Hearings components. In addition, Obama took over in 2008 at the height of the Great Recession, when there was an influx of SSA Disability cases. All of this created a perfect storm for where we are today.

However, during Democrat Bill Clinton's Administration through the 1990's, you saw increased innovation, such as the SA Program, which was extremely successful, except for those few Hearings Offices where it was not allowed, or vastly restricted.

During the George W. Bush Administration, the SA Program remained successful, even though SSA Management progressively chipped bits and pieces off the Program.

Given what happened during the Obama Administration, I strongly encourage those of us who believe in SSA all need to be stronger advocates on behalf of the Agency, and the Disability Hearings components, in the next Administration, providing there will be anything left after all the damage I foresee happening if the Tump/Pence ideologues are even minimally successful with their goals.

Anonymous said...


Here it goes again - the SA program was scaled back because independent reviews found that many of the SA allowances were NOT supported by evidence and failed to follow regulations and law.

"Paying down" a backlog is not responsible to taxpayers or the trust fund.

Anonymous said...

@1:52

SA-27 here. Your assertions are not true, plain and simple. I was on the front line of the SA Program from its very beginning in 1995. I know for a fact the SA Program was NOT, "A pay it down Program." This is especially true during the early years of the SA Program, when SA's had more powers before Management began chipping these powers off the program bit by bit.

The ONLY time I am aware there may have been a few SA's, "Paying down the backlog," was when those Manager's who utterly detested the SA Program once again began to set numerical quotas for monthly production among SA's, and evaluated the performance of SA's based almost exclusively on numbers of decisions, (ALJ and SA), issued each month. This started during the Astrue era. Once quotas were stopped being used to evaluate SA Performance, "Paying down the backlog" was NEVER an issue again.

It was during this period that your so called "Independent Reviews" of the SA Program were performed. Oh, lest not forget the Huntington situation had just been exposed, which caused Management to massively overreact and restrict the SA Program until they all but destroyed it, which is where it is today. The Huntington debacle had absolutely NOTHING to do with the SA Program, yet Senior Management attacked the SA Program in response.

I could just ring your neck for espousing these lies and untruths about the SA Program. As I said, I was on the frontline of the SA Program from its very inception in 1995, and your assertions are WRONG - I was there. In fact, your assertions come across exactly the way I, and other SA's, were persistently harassed by non-Attorney Hearings Office Managers in those early years who utterly despised us, and the SA Program. The non-Attorney Hearings Office Manager in my office could not find her way out an open door, let alone competently Manage a Hearings Office.

The bottom line is there are statistics dating back to 1995, which confirm the SA Program was NOT a, "Pay it down Program." Shame on you for denigrating the SA Program, one of the most successful Programs ODAR ever had. It is people like you who have destroyed the efficient processing of SSA Disability Appeals cases. Because of people like you who have clearly not evaluated statistics from the entirety of the SA Program from its inception in 1995, claimants have died waiting for their decisions. Are you proud of yourself?

Anonymous said...

I don't know why Charles thinks this is coming back. The agency is not backfilling empty senior attorney positions left by retirees and people who get picked up for ALJ or HOD. They are just letting the position die out until none are left.

Anonymous said...

SA 27 is wrong. Even after SAA goals were scrapped, newer SAAs like me knew full well the results of subsequent SAA decision reviews. They remained about the same--way too many errors.

Glenn Sklar tried to keep the SAA program going back in 2013 or 2014, restricting SAA OTR rationales to only meeting a listing or gridding out, no questions asked vis-à-vis PRW or transferrable skills, at the full range of your chosen exertion (even if your RFC also included other nonexertional limitations). This move temporarily placated the head actuary and others who were concerned about the possibly-dubious SAA OTRs. During that interim year or so, somebody did another quality review and SAA OTR quality had not improved significantly. So they scrapped it.

The word around the campfire is that too many old guard SAAs like ol' 27 over there would issue a ton of OTRs because, at least for one iteration of OPM's exam, issuing enough OTRs would allow an SAA to grade their experience as adjudication of some sort and secure a significantly higher score on that portion of the ALJ exam than a DW attorney or less aggressive SAA even could. In short, SAAs very largely did it to themselves by greedily issuing too many OTRs to serve their ALJ self-interest, and later SAAs just weren't conservative enough, I guess, and might have been a bit short or sloppy with their explanations to justify the RFCs they came up with.

Who knows for sure, but SAA 27 is dead wrong that the top brass all wanted to kill the adjudication. A huge ALJ contingent always did, but what I said about Sklar--a man who was our DC for quite some time--is absolutely accurate and can be verified if you bother to ask anyone who was around Falls Church or attended one of the two 2013 SAA trainings in St. Louis. More proof all the powerful people wanted to gut it? How about the tiny little fact that it did stick around...for the better part of two decades...despite always being temporary and having to be affirmatively extended every what, five years?

Anonymous said...

the NCACs have recently added their own senior attorneys and did a big wave of promotions for them last year and another little one this year, but aside from that and a couple temporary ones in a hearing office due to a grievance, I think you may be right 4:03.

Anonymous said...

@4:50

SA-27 here. Your assertions are the highest load of BS I have ever heard. You are so far off base, your comments are hardly deserving of a legitimate, intelligent response. However, out of my respect for the value of the SA Program, I would be reticent if I chose not to respond to your remarks in any manner.

First, having just turned she 57 two weeks ago, I hardly consider myself, "old." So, speak for yourself. Second, you are WRONG there were multiple reviews of the SA Program. There were only a few, and these were all performed during the period when SA performance was largely based on meeting established decision quotas each month. These numerical quotas caused some SA's to feel pressured to issue some O-T-R decisions they otherwise would not, lest they would be lambasted by idiot Managers who had no business evaluating the performance of SA's in the first place, especially non-Attorney Managers and Attorney Managers who had never been a Senior Attorney, or had any significant Agency specific experience.

Third, your remarks that Glen Sklar had SA's ONLY writing O-T-R's which only met a Listing, or Gridded Out with no non-exertional limitations for a period in an effort to improve Quality Reviews of SA decisions is the most ludicrous and ridiculous thing I ever heard. Certainly, I was NEVER instructed to perform my SA work in such a hideous manner. To my knowledge, this was not something done nationwide. Further, I cannot help but notice you are a Management shill, as you remarkably place Sklar on a pedestal, and assert it was mostly ALJ's who detested the SA Program. You could not be more WRONG. While a substantial number of ALJ's disliked the SA Program when it first began in 1995, newer ALJ's over the years increasingly accepted it.

Fourth, your statement, "The word around the campfire is that too many old guard SA's like 'ol 27 . . . would issue of ton of decisions because at least for one iteration of OPM's Exam, issuing enough O-T-R's would allow SA's to consider their experience as adjudication and secure a significantly higher score on that part of the ALJ Exam . . .," is the nuttiest thing I ever heard. The first time the ALJ Register opened and I had the minimum qualifications necessary to submit an application was 2007. Your ludicrous assertion above did not apply then, or any other time I submitted an ALJ application. For the record, however, I considered myself an Adjudicator as I successfully performed my SA work, and reported same on my ALJ applications. You may recall, in the early years of the SA Program, we had more power and authority, which Management, NOT ALJ's, increasingly chipped off in more recent years. I was constantly on the phone with claimants counsel, developing the record in case files, etc. So yes, I was an Adjudicator for years, and a damn good one at that. I have no doubt numerous claimants Attorneys during this period recall this. In addition, I NEVER, EVER paid "tons" of cases due to such a preposterous assertion about being given credit for a portion of the ALJ Exam, nor am I aware of ANY SA's who ever did such a thing.

Finally, the fact the SA Program had to renewed every few years has absolutely NOTHING to do with any of this, or your assertion it was not Management who wanted to kill it. In the end, all the chipping off of the SA Program from 2000 to its present skeleton remains was Management, you shill! Your comment is written sarcastically and demeans me specifically. This reflects poorly on you and screams of tremendous immaturity. Heaven forbid you are now an ALJ. I could dance around you all day long about the success and entire history of the SA Program, and I can assure you what I have to say is, "Word around the campfire," but from someone who was on the front lines of the SA Program from the start, and the reason there ever was a SA position for you down the road. Do us all a favor and grow up.

Anonymous said...

Of course SA decisions are down. The only SA decisions are coming through the VSU, and ODAR pulled all of the VSU SAs back to hearing office work drafting ALJ decisions.

Regarding the lack of ongoing SA promotions to fill losses to retirement and promotion, look no further than the 2009 mass promotions. There is no business need for more SA nationally if one accepts that the true difference between AA and SA is the adjudication that the SAs are not authorized to do anyway.

Anonymous said...

@9:21:

On what basis are SA's not authorized to
Adjudicate and issue SA decisions? On what Planet do you live, as it obviously is not Earth?
When the SA Program began, the perimeters of the SA Program were established by the Agency. Every time the SA Program was renewed over the years, the perimeters were tweaked as TPTB progressively chipped of bits and pieces of the Program. The Agency has the statutory authority to establish the SA Program, so long as SA's are not adjudicating unfavorable disability decisions.

As an aside, I honestly do not understand some of you people, and why you are so recalcitrant to the SA Program, one of the best innovations ODAR ever had. Frankly, none of your arguments have any substantive merit. The negative reviews of SA decisions you reference are few, and are not an accurate reflection of the success of the SA Program in its entirety. Many of your assertions are downright lies and untruths, and several are based on rumors and innuendo.

With the SA Program as originally designed, you had a successful Program which worked beautifully. While many complained, all such complaints have always been self serving. I certainly hope claimants counsel and the public are able to see the bureaucratic wall of obstinateness and dysfunction which Manages the Disability Hearings components of SSA, and aggressively advocate it be torn down.

There are a number of high level Managers who make up this bureaucratic wall of dysfunction who remain rigid and steadfast; cannot appreciate a Program which successfully worked and had a proven track record during those early years before they started chipping off the SA Program bit by bit; and are not approachable, receptive, or open to employee engagement and innovation. It matters not to these stubborn bureaucrats how massive the unprecedented backlog, the financial hardship claimants endure while they needlessly wait, or how many claimants have already died because of their obstinance. Unless or until this bureaucratic wall of dysfunction is replaced with those of us who have successfully been on the front lines for years, know what works and how to run it, you are not going to see improvement. Garmon and his ilk must go, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

@1:08
I posted at 9:21 PM and was unclear on one point. When I mentioned authorization to adjudicate, I was not referring to statutory or other legal authority, but to the limitation on that authority by, as you seem to like to say, "TPTB." Currently, ODAR only authorizes SA adjudication within the VSU, and ODAR pulled the VSA senior attorneys back to drafting ALJ decisions to help deal with the decision writing surplus. This represents at least one reason for the lack of SA decisions. The planet I live on (yes, it actually is Earth) is the one where employers decide what work employees are allowed to work on. Sorry if my use of "authorized" gave a different impression.

I don't know whether you were referring to my post as including negative reviews of the SA program in general, but that was not my intent. What I did intend to convey was that, given the large numbers of attorneys already in SA positions with no current ability to do the adjudication that distinguishes the SA from the AA, it's no wonder that ODAR is reluctant to promote more.

Anonymous said...

@ 2:34. Are you sure you are an attorney, you wrote "I could ring your neck". I think you meant, I could wring your neck.

Otherwise, your rants are at least entertaining. Why so paranoid?

Also, btw, there are SAA who are currently adjudicating cases.

Anonymous said...

@12:54

I appreciate your clarification. TPTB (Management) can just as easily restructure the SA Program and get it up and running. Since 1995, they have repeatedly chipped bits and pieces off the SA Program. Under the very same authority, they have the POWER in their hands to immediately get the original SA Program as it began in 1995, or a similar tweaked version of same, up and running in no time flat. What I have saying all along is forget the VSU and the SAT, and all recent varied versions they have promulgated, and reinstate the original STD SA Program with all the powers SA's had when the Program began in 1995.

This is much more cost effective then hiring more ALJ's and paying the substantially higher salaries compared to what a GS-13 SA makes. Financially and office space wise this makes so much more sense, and would have an immediate effect of reducing the backlog. The SA's would primarily telework coming into the office no more than once a week. Thus, less square foot of office space needed.

Moreover, SA's are performing ALL of their own work and do not require decision writers. The SA's will screen for O-T-R's; issue O-T-R decisions in those cases which can immediately be paid without any doubt; in cases they screen which could easily be O-T-R's, they could contact claimants counsel and work with them to develop the record because they will know what is still needed, amend onset date or drop either a SSI case because of excess income or resources, or a DIWC case because insured status has expired. When the SA Program began, I also had the power to determine what CE's, if any, were needed, and ordered them on my own. If the CE report I received in return supported an O-T-R decision, I issued one. In certain close cases, I also prepared interrogatories to ME's and VE'S in order completely support an O-T-R decision. When the interrogatory responses left any doubt, I sent the case on to the ALJ with a brief, no longer than 1 type page analysis of the case, what I had done, and what I believed should still be done by the ALJ. I also had signature authority for several years.

When SA's are doing all of this, this leaves fewer and the more difficult cases to the ALJ's, who then have more time to deal with those cases because they are holding fewer hearings, and not needlessly reading case files which can be paid O-T-R. Under this scenario, I recommend ALJ numerical quotas be removed or substantially reduced. Otherwise, ALJ's get upset because they have no easy favorable to boost their "numbers."

This original SA Program worked beautifully in 1995 and the early years of the Program, immediately reduced the hearing backlog, and I have no doubt it would work today. For the record, if SA quality of decision writing is not up to snuff, then these individuals should NOT be in these positions, or writing decisions for ALJ's for that matter. I always took pride in my SA work, and I know I was much more detail oriented than others. This is just who I am. Thus, SA's should be carefully selected for the best and brightest in the first place, and those AA's who just get by, or coast, should not be selected. I urge TPTB to give this SA set-up a shot. They have the POWER to do this right now. Financially, it would save taxpayers money by leaps and bounds, and the entire SSA Disability Hearings process would work more smoothly and efficiently. (SA-27).

Anonymous said...

@1:44:

I refuse to dignify your comment with a response. You are a Troll in my opinion , and your needless, denigrating remarks concerning me and assertions I have made are unwelcome and serve no useful purpose. Get a life, Troll!

Anonymous said...

SA 27 either has significant memory problems or she was terminated before what happened in 4:50's comment. There most surely was an all SAA call that had to be attended by a manager, as well, along with accompanying emails with word docs outlining the meets/full range grid requirement for OTR rationales. It happened, maybe some other SAAs that were around in 2014 or 2015 when it happened can chime in to verify.

So at least some large, powerful contingent within ODAR or SSA at large wanted to keep the SAAs adjudicating and implemented significant restrictions on the adjudication process to keep the naysayers placated. It lasted a little less than a year until after the next quality review or AC data or whatever it was that showed SAA OTRs were still being issued with a high rate of errors and those naysaying powerful folks finally got their wish.

The NAT (no longer the VSU--NAT stands for national adjudication team) was issuing OTRs and maybe still does every once in a while, but right now Gruber has basically anyone who can write decisions writing decisions, from regional QR folks to a few dozen AC folks to managers to the NAT. "All hands on deck."

Anonymous said...

@8:56:

SA-27 here. Thankfully, I was not working when the part of upper Management who allegedly wanted to keep SA's adjudicating on a markedly restricted basis to placate naysayers took place for a short period. This is hideous, in my opinion.

Look, I have gone to great lengths in my remarks here about how great the SA Program can be. I find it difficult to believe so many SA's are writing poor quality O-T-R decisions through the SA Program. I have no doubt there may be a few who did. They should never been selected to be SA's, demoted, or removed. I also suspect some who issued poor quality SA decisions skimped and skipped corners because Managers in many Hearings Offices continued to primarily look to "Numbers" of decisions issued when evaluating SA Performance, even when they were instructed not to do so. This occurred in my office, so I know it happens.

My other thought is Management has gone overboard in how they assess quality of O-T-R SA decisions. Much of what I have heard and read suggests this is also true. After all, Management swung the pendulum so far to the quality end of the spectrum for all decisions and even ALJ writing instructions long enough to create the unprecedented backlog we have now. Management went way too far when they did this, especially where favorable decisions by SA's or ALJ's is considered. This may have caused SA O-T-R decisions which may have been written well to be considered less than optimal because the standards being used to assess quality of O-T-R's are ridiculous, i.e., way too high.

Further, has it ever occurred to you this was by design in the first place, e.g., Management played, "Bad cop, Good cop," by splitting in half, with one half acting as though they wanted the SA Program and the other half acting as naysayers of the SA Program? While many of you may lambast me with "Crazy Making" abusive words and phrases here, recall I was on the front lines fighting for the SA Program from the very beginning, and I have seen it all. The things I have been subjected to and experienced, would utterly shock the conscience of many of you. One cannot make this stuff up, plain and simple. So, do not think for one minute this was not a set-up for failure.