Feb 13, 2013

Astrue's Last Day

     This is Michael Astrue's last day as Commissioner of Social Security. Readers have already expressed their opinions on Astrue's term as Commissioner in a poll. Expand on those thoughts now by commenting in response to this post. What do you think of the job that Astrue has done? What do you think are his accomplishments? What were his mistakes? Did he change the agency in positive ways? What is his legacy?


Anonymous said...

Really I am inclined to think that Mr. Astrue did a good job as commissioner. Given that Congress was trying to strangle the agency through his tenure, he managed to meet the goals set for him by the same ill informed people that were cutting his budget.

Online applications are a huge step forward. Online access by third party representatives to the EF for uploading and downloading is a monstrous step forward for the agency and its love hate relationship with representatives. Now access needs to be allowed for Initial and Reconsideration.

The Hearing backlog is decreased, while the use of National Hearing Centers is up. Claimants are seeing a drastic change in wait times for a Hearing in most states. LA has offices turning Hearing Filed to Hearing Held in under 200 days, 1/5 the 999 day claims that plagued the agency not that long ago. I did not agree with the hiring of multitudes of ALJ and the expense of staffing the NHC, the public deserves better than a video Hearing (Check the Evansville ODAR, the Chief ALJ is blind and holds video Hearings).

CAL, while it does not handle a great multitude of claims, the individuals suffering from these insidious conditions have many more important things to deal with than an up hill battle with a DDS Adjudicator that has never heard of Stiff Person Syndrome or Ornithine Transcarbamylase Deficiency. Huge step forward there.

Not to mention he stayed the ENTIRE 6 year term. We seldom see that in a Commissioner, giving the agency a period of stability not seen in decades. Love him or hate him, at least you knew where he was coming from and what to expect. Nothing changed month to month or year to year as different Commissioners tried to leave their mark on the agency.

Sure he caved a few times, the Stealth ALJ policy was a ridiculous knee jerk response to continued bombardment from NYT articles. It’s a silly policy, but not a damaging one. High allowance rate or low allowance rate a representative should be prepared and extremely familiar with the claim. Picking up the file the day of the Hearing and going in on "another back claim" "another mental illness claim" or "another back claim" is not acceptable, if not knowing the ALJ chased a few practioners out of the 50/50 claim business, then it was a good policy.

All in all I give him a "B". Better than average, room for improvement, but given the cards he had, he played his hand well.

Anonymous said...

you can close the comments now because that's as fair an assessment as you will see.

Anonymous said...

I'll echo the first comment with an emphasis on the sense of stability that Astrue brought to the agency.

Of all the COSS I have worked for as a BU employee and then as a senior manager, he seemed to possess more emotional intelligence than the rest of them combined.

How he dealt with the pettiness, overinflated egos, and selfish territorial instincts of so many of his senior leaders in the SES is a story I'd like to hear from him some day.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the comments above--he accomplished quite a bit in his tenure. The one thing I wish he would've done was fight more vigorously for funding.

Anonymous said...

Agree with A11:19. This guy has a brain and did a good job, especially under the budgetary pressure he had to deal with. I too was a BU employee and a senior manager, and found him to be pretty even handed dealing with all situations. We need more people like Astrue in government.

Anonymous said...


A once in a generation Commissioner

His legacy writes itself... to all the items listed above, add Spanish language online services, multiple data centers (with redundancy...welcome to the 20th century SSA)... and you've still only begun to scratch the surface...

Here was a man with the vision, guts, and savvy to modernize a bureaucracy very set in its ways.

Anonymous said...

Best Commissioner to represent the agency in hearings/testimony before Congress. Been with the agency many years and have never seen another face the Congress with as much confidence and intelligence as Astrue.

Anonymous said...

His legacy - they changed the name of the Mexican food station in the HQ cafeteria to Miguel's Ancho Grille.

Anonymous said...

C-. Astrue, unlike any other COSS before him, was given an extra one billion dollars in stimulus money to spend. How could he not have done more than those who didn't have that money? Some members of Congress (Senator Shelby, for example) believe that Astrue mismanaged the money by spending heavily on personnel instead of streamlining the claims process. Astrue definitely left behind some supportive insiders - personnel who may have acquired jobs, promotions and other benefits from the extra billion dollars.

Anonymous said...

Awful, good riddance.
The only reason the baccklog is down is because we got more people to do the work. To whatever extent he accomplished that I will give him credit. Otherwise? The electronic folder was already in the works long before him. The commpassionate allowance program is a joke-those very rare conditions always got paid before at the initial level. NHC? They are sending those judges out to the local offices to do live hearings, so how is that efficient or save any money? The NHCs suck down our hearing space so we can't do as many hearings locally as we want to and then turn it back in unused at the last minute and too late to schedule those rooms. And he abused the good people that work for the agency such that morale is in the gutter and anybody who can is trying to leave. If you are pleased with the agency in the past 6 years it is in spite of him not because of him.

Anonymous said...

I was talking w/ another SSD attorney. I got in around 2005 so this has been the only SSA commissioner I have known (except for Barnhart briefly).

Grade: B- to C+

Pros: 1. The backlog seems to have been reduced.

2. Also hearing times seem much less the last 2 years than from around 2005-07.

3. Seems willing to take the heat on most questions. I have seen him grilled at NOSSCR and always seems pretty reasonable.

Cons: 1. Obviously the ridiculous secret ALJ policy. It should go bye-bye.

2. It seems like the listings have been tightened more on his watch. Basically the elimination of the diabetes listing (among others) was sneaky.

3. The new ALJs (at least in California) all seem to be trained to deny more. It used to be a new ALJ granted more from the start and then scale back. The opposite seems to have now.

Overall: He seemed to bring a certain amount of reasonableness and work ethic to the position. He obviously had agendas probably conservative and Republican (he was a Bush appointee). But overall a decent job.