Jun 16, 2008

Tell Me More

Social Security recently issued a report entitled "Plan to Eliminate the Hearing Backlog and Prevent Its Recurrence: Semiannual Report Fiscal Year 2008", yet the 18 page document does not show the current state of the backlog or show any projection on when the backlog will be eliminated. You would expect this sort of data in a report with this title. The absence of this data seems remarkable.

The report does not show how many new Requests for Hearing that Social Security has received so far this fiscal year or how many dispositions of these Requests for Hearing that Social Security has made so far in this fiscal year. All the report says is "In FY 08, ODAR has been challenged by new receipts for hearings that continue to rise above FY 07 levels and the loss of experienced Administrative Law Judges through attrition." That does not sound like things are going well, especially when you consider the elliptical nature of the report.

The report contains a chart showing the decline in the number of cases pending more than 900 days. This shows that Social Security is doing a less bad job in spreading the misery around, but that tells us nothing about the overall state of the misery.

I posted a report that I had received from inside Social Security that the backlog of people waiting for a hearing before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was increasing at the rate of about 10,000 per month. That is a huge rate of increase. As I posted at the time, if this is true it would take an additional 200 or more ALJs just to keep the backlog from growing. Social Security is only planning to hire 175 more ALJs this year -- and the net increase in the number of ALJs will not be 175 because of the ordinary attrition of those who are already ALJs.

This week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee that covers the Social Security Administration will be marking up Social Security's operating budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, which begins on October 1, 2008. I think that Subcommittee ought to know the current state of the hearing backlogs and whether and at what rate that backlogs is expanding. The Subcommittee needs to know how many ALJs Social Security needs to stop the backlog from growing and to start reducing it and how much this will cost. This "Plan to Eliminate the Hearing Backlog ..." is just happy talk. Congress needs hard numbers.

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