Dec 19, 2014

Issa Report On ALJs

     Darrell Issa's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a report yesterday on Misplaced Priorities: How the Social Security Administration Sacrificed Quality for Quantity in the Disability Determination Process. The report talks about the great pressures that have been placed upon Social Security's Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to produce as many decisions as possible. The report accepts at face value the assertion that the pressures to produce have led to a higher proportion of favorable decisions issued. The report demands that Social Security fire some ALJs, which it lists by name, and discipline others. The report insists that Social Security should stop hiring more ALJs and focus its efforts on controlling ALJ decision-making. 
     Social Security lacks the power to act against ALJs in the manner recommended by the report. To protect ALJs from agency influence, it's quite difficult to fire or discipline them. What Issa wants is heavy-handed agency influence on ALJ decision-making. You can't do that. 
     A halt in hiring of ALJs and a total focus on controlling ALJ decision-making would result in an explosion of Social Security's already unacceptable hearing backlog. Darrell Issa might be happy with that but it's unworkable. It's inevitable that as the hearing backlog explodes media coverage of the backlog will explode.


Anonymous said...

So Issa is Issa, but what about the stat in there that between 2005 and 2013, while there were 191 ALJs with "total allowance rates" higher than 85 percent (note this represents nearly 15 percent of the ALJ corps), there was only ONE ALJ with an a "total allowance rate" below 15 percent.

I thought for every high payer there was a super low payer (or two), reps?

Anonymous said...

i find it amusing that people use "the hearing backlog" as a way to justify continuing on the same path (i.e. no way to discipline fire ALjs).

Seems like attorney ethics would prioritize accuracy and legal sufficiency over speed.

Anonymous said...

What makes you think that the ALJs are free from agency influence? How else can you explain the drop in allowance rates from the 70% to 44% without any significant change in the law?

Anonymous said...


One possible explanation is that there is a more concerted effort to properly apply the existing law.

Anonymous said...

Issa: Yeah, those ALJs are getting too much pressure to approve cases!
(AALJ rep nods approvingly)
(Man whispers in Issa's ear)
(Issa responds in a whisper) What! The percentage of cases the ALJs approved DROPPED over 10% in the past several years? Quick, sweep that statistic under the rug! (flunkie sweeps while Sen. Coburn holds up the rug and then pats it down firmly)
Issa: As I was saying those ALJs are getting too much pressure to approve cases!
(AALJ rep nods approvingly)

Anonymous said...

The independent adjudicator has no friend. Astrue, Cristaudo, DeSoto and Sklar implicitly pressured ALJs to pay more to clear the backlog. Now, Issa and his congressional chums want to use that same pressure on ALJs to deny more cases. No one sees any flaw in the premise that its perfectly permissible to pressure ALJs so long as the pressure is to do their bidding.

Anonymous said...

No secret to anyone reading this blog. Issa, Coburn and friends just want to cut government benefits to the poor and people with disabilities. Ironic that the title of the report is "misplaced priorities." The main priorities of the Social Security system have always been to help reduce poverty and to help people with disabilities. The snake oil sales pitches these congressmen offer appear designed to undermine those priorities. Sorry guys, we're not buying it.

Anonymous said...

To 9:44

That only makes sense if you believe that the 15% approval is just as deviant as the 85% approval.

But if the medan approval rate, at least in those years, was more like 65%, as it was, then the ones below 45% were as far off as the ones above 85%. So yes, if you are using those years as a base, there were just as many, if not more, Judge outliers on the low side as on the high side. Moreover, the 15-20% Judges were even more extremely out side the norm than even the 95% Judges.

But hey, its just numbers, no real people.

Anonymous said...

@ 9:28

you are showing your lack of mathematical/statistics understanding.

If there were that many more outliers (whether truly statistical outliers or outliers in the common use of the term) on the high end, then they affected the mean payrate much more than the low payers. Significantly more so (if there were 170+ at 85% or better and only one at 15% or lower...).

Thus, since the significantly greater in number high payers made the curve very left skewed (with an inflated mean), it is not wise to use the mean in such a way to say, "well, those who were 20 points lower are the same as those who were 20 points higher).

But hey, it's just basic statistics, not math.

Anonymous said...

Also, remember that your highest payers were also often (much more than not) high producers, further skewing the curve and making any mean (especially the mean pay rate).

If you assume the high payers had an average caseload (and that all ALJs had the same caseload), that there were 170 high payers and that they averaged 85 percent pay rate (this is surely an underestimate since one had to be at a minimum of 85 percent pay to even be on that list), and that the overall ALJ pay rate was 66 percent, then calculation indicates the remaining 1230 judges averaged just over 63 percent pay. A nearly three percent difference from the mean.

If I could get all the data and factor in that so many high payers also decided significantly more cases than average, you'd see the disparity between the overall mean and the "not high payer" mean grow much wider than three points.

I'll just sip my tea over here, though.

Anonymous said...

11:36AM -- the data is available if you want it -- SSA releases data giving annual dispositions of every ALJ, with that further broken down into FF, PF, UF.

And what you will find is that high payers were often high producers -- it is easy to get out lots of dispositions if you pay everyone. High deniers (of which there are few compared to high payers) are often lower producers because it takes time to deny a case.

The drop in approvals is due in part to high producers leaving the agency -- either by choice (retirement) or (rarely) force. The loss of a Daugherty, paying 1000 cases a year and denying two or three is equivalent to the loss of three or four "average" payers.

Anonymous said...

That statement does NOT account for the entire drop in percentages! Examine the reported FF, PF, and UF decisions made by INDIVIDUAL ALJs. Most ALJs before whom I regularly appear have decreased their percentages by at least 15-20%. Even the "high payers" have dropped roughly 10-15%. Despite their supposed independence, something has spooked the ALJ corps, and few of them will discuss it. I'd like to learn what are the threats which are compelling those individual decreases. Because of the lower pay rates, most responsible attorneys are know are being even more selective when accepting cases and are less willing to take a chance on cases which may have merit, but have some glitches.

Anonymous said...

I can't really fault this report too much. I think they seem to have too much faith in the accuracy of DDS determinations (lol) but tracking and responding to outliers can make a huge difference in reducing costs.