Feb 9, 2012

Commissioner's Broadcast Message On Budget

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Wednesday, February 08, 2012 5:18 PM

A Message To All SSA And DDS Employees‪

Subject: Budget

I just wanted to take a few moments to talk to you about the rest of this fiscal year in light of our budget. The good news is that Congress passed the omnibus appropriations bill four months earlier than it did last year. We were surprised that Congress did not stick to the substantially higher level of continuing disability reviews called for in the debt ceiling legislation passed last August. This lower level of funding, combined with substantially more people filing hearings requests, requires us to shift resources. I have asked some employees who have been helping the State agencies to redirect their support to hearing offices. That transition has started smoothly, and I want to thank everyone who is helping our fellow Americans who have been waiting too long for a hearing decision. In addition, we hope to start the next administrative law judge class by June.

It can be hard for people outside the agency to appreciate just how much more work we have and how rapidly our work force is contracting. We had a net loss of over 4,000 Federal and State employees in FY 2011, and we expect a net loss of over 3,000 employees this fiscal year. As we continue to lose staff, it means that in 2013, we will likely have about the same number of employees we had when I arrived in 2007, even though the volume of our work continues to increase.

While we are doing some very limited hiring, we are relying on retired annuitants and overtime at least until next year’s budget situation clarifies. I appreciate the help our recent retirees are giving us, and I encourage newer employees to learn as much as possible from these experts. Given the budget uncertainty, we are delaying a decision about offering early out retirement. We will revisit this issue in the fall when we have a better sense about our FY 2013 resource level.

There is no silver bullet, but we can’t ignore fiscal reality and assume that we can go on doing business as usual. As Deputy Commissioner Colvin has said, we will do less with less. We continue to look for ways to streamline and simplify work and identify what work we can stop doing. We have put forward several workload simplifications, and we are hopeful that they will receive support. We will also continue to consolidate offices where it makes sense—facing a choice between buildings and people, I’ll take the people every time.

I know you are familiar with some of the recent simplifications, such as elimination of subsequent disability applications and giving disability examiners the flexibility to move from Step 4 to Step 5 in the disability determination process when it is appropriate to do so. A more recent initiative is mandating authorized claimant representatives to file appeals online using our improved iAppeals application. This change, which will take effect on March 16, will eliminate work in field offices and speed the progress of cases for claimants.

I know that fiscal shortfalls create stress in our offices, especially when there are fewer of you to handle more work. Our inability to timely handle work makes the public more frustrated, and you endure that frustration. I also know that outcomes like pay freezes may cause you to question your career choice. Nevertheless, I know that you are proud to be part of our family, proud to be part of this venerable program, and proud to serve your communities. Please know that I, and more importantly, the American public, appreciate that you continue to deliver the best possible service.

It is because of you that I can say this year is off to an impressive start. Thanks again for all you do each day.

Michael J. Astrue


Anonymous said...

Still don't agree with hiring $160,000 aljs as being sound fiscal reasoning.

the disabled

Nobbins said...

Do you think he makes an effort to sound as vague and obtuse as possible, or does it just come naturally?

And yes, paying that much for an ALJ makes sense. I think getting bottom of the class discount ALJs will not solve anyone's problems.

the young, healthy, and thinking clearly

Anonymous said...

Before passing judgement on the salary of ALJs, maybe you should actually review their qualification requirements:


If SSA didn't pay them a competitive market salary for their years of experience as a qualified attorney, there would be no incentive to accept an ALJ position.

Anonymous said...

A lot of good attorneys are not willing to take the pay cut down to $160,000 to become an ALJ.

Anonymous said...

I used to be hostile toward Astrue, but now I just feel sorry for him. He is faced with a hostile House, a dysfunctional Senate, and a leaderless White House. There is no way he can come out ahead. SSA is in such bad shape, that if the media actually covered it as it should be, the Amoerican public would be genuinely shocked. But journalism is dead, and the attention span of the public is shorter than a Kardashian wedding.

Anonymous said...

I wish SSA would get a little more serious about looking at fraud and abuse in their own local offices. I know of one field office that runs their operations as if it were the wild west. They do not even come close to following the law, or SSA policies and procedures.

Anonymous said...

The posted qualifications for federal goverment-wide Administrative Law Judges vastly overstates the background and qualifications exhibited/needed at a typical SSA ALJ hearing. Even OPM admits this in their classification of SSA's ALJs in the lower segment of all federal ALJs.

What is a fair "market value" for a seasoned attorney capable of handling SSA hearings with speed, volume, diplomacy/dignity, skill, knowledge, due process and sensativity? With the current surplus of law graduates and attorneys?
There are a number of attorneys young and old willing to take on a few years of public service at less than they might otherwise demand for their services.
There has never been a shortage of applicants and this is even more true in the current employment market.