Dec 1, 2005

Backlog in Office of Regulations

Social Security is required to post in the Federal Register every six months a statement showing all proposals for new regulations currently under development. Social Security's most recent Regulatory Agenda showed 45 regulatory proposals that had already been published in the Federal Register. The comment period had long since expired on most of these. Many of these proposals dated back several years. One first appeared in the Federal Register in 1997! It looks as if SSA's Office of Regulations suffers from the same staff shortages and backlogs that afflict the rest of SSA.

The backlogs at SSA's Office of Regulations have potential consequences for two recent major regulatory proposals, Commissioner Barnhart's proposal to revamp disability determination and the proposal to add two years onto each of the age categories of the grid regulations. There were over 800 comments on the Commissioner's proposal. That is a lot of paperwork to wade through to produce a final set of regulations. There are reports that Barnhart wants her proposal finalized by Spring 2006. Certainly, she can order the Office of Regulations to give priority to her proposal, but Spring 2006 may be a hard goal to meet even with pressure from the Commissioner. How high a priority SSA places on the age category proposal is unclear. The proposal indicates that there will be major savings if the proposal is adopted, so there may be pressure from the Office of Management and Budget to adopt the change, but a badly backlogged Office of Regulations could easily cause delays in adoption of this rule.

Significant delay could push implementation of either proposal past the next Congressional election and January 2007, when Barnhart's term in office ends.

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