Dec 19, 2007

Appeals Council Backlogs

Below is the complete text of an e-mail I received today from a staff member in my office who had just talked with an employee at the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration:
Told me w/ the backlog they are just finishing up 2005 and starting on 2006, but they are mixing in some 2007.
Undoubtedly, the "mixing in some 2007" is an effort to artificially make their stats look better by "fast-tracking" a few easy cases. It makes the averages look a bit better, while making the wait times worse for the people waiting two years and more for review. What is the plan for working off the backlogs at the Appeals Council. The last I heard the Appeals Council was expected to lose a good deal of staff over the next year.


Anonymous said...

The Appeals Council and all its various support staff comprise something called the Office of Appellate Operations. OAO is divided into a couple dozen or so units that operate in support of individual Administrative Appeals Judges. These units are called Disability Program Branches. Corporately, all of OAO has a backlog of around 57,000 cases. That’s by this week’s report.

By memory, receipts and clearances for all of OAO last year ran somewhere around 80-85,000 cases. It’s a moderately obvious conclusion that OAO can’t really be 2 years behind across the board. If OAO did in fact an across-the-board 2-year backlog, the total backlog would have to be over 150,000 cases.

The picture is way more complex that the single hearsay sentence Mr. Hall repeats. This is not to deny that OAO deals off the top and the bottom of the deck at the same time. Those who follow the inner workings of SSA will know that SSA published this practice in the Federal Register as something called “differential case management.”

So should we discount that hearsay sentence as entirely incredible? No. The reason we shouldn’t is that all of those two dozen or so branches have individual workloads. These individual workloads vary. Some branches are further behind—a lot further behind—than others.

Then again, it’s a dangerous thing to attempt to assign great significance to what was probably an offhand comment by an employee who might well be support staff not be entirely familiar with every detail of OAO operations.


Anonymous said...

Gee, I just had someone call my FO today and ask for the phone number of the Appeals Council so they could call to ask status of their case. I explained that it is basically useless to try to do that. Their appeal has been pending over a year, and I told them that Appeals Council reviews typically take a year-and-a-half to two years, because that is the truth, and has been the truth for a number of years.
The Appeals Council does pull cases to remand back to the ALJ, and their processing time stops, but the claimant is no further ahead--they have to go through another hearing process, and maybe another Appeals Council review.