Oct 17, 2008

One Nugget Worth Repeating

Here is one little nugget from Eric Schnaufer's excellent summary of the presentations at yesterday's National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) Conference in Los Angeles that deserves further attention. This was from Lisa de Soto, the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR):
There is “some debate” about whether there is an adequate ALJ-staff ratio. In FY 2008, the ratio was 1:4.4. With the new hires, the ratio is 1:4.1.
Let me explain this a bit. Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) hear the appeals of Social Security disability claims. There is a humongous backlog of claimants awaiting hearings before ALJs. This is causing great human suffering. People are committing suicide while awaiting hearings. The Commissioner has called the backlog a "disgrace." ALJs are not one man (or woman) shows. They need help, doing things like preparing files and getting out written decisions. The current ratio is 4.4 other employees for each ALJ. Most, but not all, observers think that the 4.4 to 1 ratio is not enough. Social Security has hired some ALJs. More will be hired. Social Security is not adding anything like 4.4 staff members for each ALJ hired, so the staffing ratio will decline from 4.4 staff members per ALJ to 4.1 staff members per ALJ. I know of no one other than Lisa de Soto and Michael Astrue who thinks this decline in the staff ratio is a good idea. Michael Astrue and Lisa de Soto expects each ALJ to produce more decisions even though the staff per ALJ is being cut by about 7%. What is wrong with this picture?


Joyce said...

First the numbers are not accurate. They include all management employees including the ten Regional Offices staff in that figure. Those people have absolutely nothing to do with the work that needs to be done to get a claim file ready for hearing.

At the Region I training for ALJ's in August I personally suggested to Commissioner DeSoto, in the presence of Deputy Chief Judge Griswold that she should take all the staff at the Regional Offices and distribute them to the hearing offices and have them performing the grunt work including working up files, sending out hearing notices, sending out consultative exam requests and closing out finalized decisions. I have absolutely no expectation that this will happen even though the Regional Office staff doesn't do much other than run the same reports than the Group Supervisors run every day in the hearing offices. Then they call the GS's and push them to push the judges to do more and more. That is basically their major function.

This would be a great way to get staff to the judges without the need to hire extra people but it will never happen!

Anonymous said...

The answer is clear, although you will never get anyone in the management of SSA or ODAR to admit it. They want, encourage, everyone involved to simply pay down the backlog. Consider:

Judges who produce low numbers of decisions, even if they are quality decisions, are castigated, disciplined.

Judges who pay 2500 cases per year - 99 - 100 %, are praised and made management officials.

The agency has stopped doing own motion reviews, thereby allowing, encouraging sloppy decisions.

The only way to get a sloppily analyzed, hastily considered, decision through the system is to pay it. Otherwise, for the price of a postage stamp, the losing claimant can get a team of "experts" to comb through the decision looking for errors or somthing they can call an error. The AC is playing a numbers game too, and after their positions were nearly eliminated, their pending cases mysteriously went to nearly zero.

judgejoyce@hotmail.com said...

And the judge who issues 2500 cases annually, although criticized by the SSAB the GAO and the IG is still the HOCALJ of an office, has been disciplined by the bars of two states and the Agency has refused to take action against him even when the fact that this judge lied on his ALJ application about his having been disciplined was brought to their attention.