Social Security made up some special rules just for Eric Conn's former clients. The main point of the rules is to make sure the agency can decide in its absolute, unreviewable discretion that there has been "fraud or similar fault" without ever having to produce any evidence showing this or having to justify its decision before a neutral adjudicator.
Take a look at sections I-1-3-15, I-2-2-101, I-2-10-8, I-2-10-10, and I-2-10-14 from the agency's hearings and appeals manual, HALLEX. These provide a process whereby an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will give notice of a hearing on the issue of whether there was "fraud or similar fault", hold the hearing, possibly take testimony from a witness from the agency's Office of Inspector General (OIG), and make a decision on the issue on the basis of the preponderance of the evidence. All of these sections other than I-2-2-101 were adopted on June 25, 2014. This is the traditional approach to administrative justice.
Then take a look at section I-1-3-25, Processing Multiple Cases When Fraud or Similar Fault Involved (“Redeterminations”), also adopted on June 25, 2014. Here are some excerpts with my interpolated comments bolded and in italics.
- The Deputy Commissioner of ODAR [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review] will determine which ODAR component is designated to redetermine the affected case(s). Wait, who adjudicates whether there was "fraud or similar fault" justifying a redetermination in the first place? Does the head of ODAR get to make this decision in her absolute, unreviewable discretion? When does the claimant get to see the evidence upon which this decision is based? When does the claimant get a chance to counter this evidence? It sure looks like the agency is afraid of having to justify what it's doing before a neutral adjudicator.
- ODAR will draft specific processing instructions for any particular batch of cases. Right, you just make it up as you go along.
- When an adverse redetermination is necessary, ODAR will send the claimant an appropriate notice based on the circumstances. The notice may include issues relating to benefit continuation or the opportunity for a supplemental hearing. May include information on benefit continuation? Sounds like you can't make up you mind on this issue. Supplemental hearing on which issues? Additionally, the notice may include the opportunity and time-frame for submitting arguments or rebuttal evidence. I-1-3-25. But what about the right to a hearing on the issue of "fraud or similar fault? Isn't that required as a matter of administrative law and due process? Does the process you've designed consist of you telling me you've already made up your mind but I can say something which you'll ignore since you've already made up your mind and you can't possibly change your mind because Congressional Republicans will attack you? It sure looks like the agency is afraid of having to justify what it's doing before a neutral adjudicator.
- Based on OIG referrals of information pursuant to section 1129(l) of the Act or information obtained through other criminal, congressional, or administrative investigation, the agency may direct an ODAR adjudicator to disregard certain evidence. The agency can just summarily decide which evidence can be considered in its absolute, unreviewable discretion? How does this square with the right to submit arguments and rebuttal evidence? Sounds like that's no more than window dressing since "the agency" has already made up its mind. It sure looks like the agency is afraid of having to justify what it's doing before a neutral adjudicator.
Why is it that the agency made up these rules last summer, obviously for Conn's cases, but is only just now getting around to acting on the cases? The statute says there is supposed to be an "immediate" readjudication when there is "fraud or similar fault." It looks like the agency can't make up its mind what it wants to do. Maybe that's because the evidence of "fraud or similar fault" isn't all that strong. Convincing 60 Minutes, which is far more interested in good TV than in justice, is one thing. Convincing a neutral adjudicator is another. They don't trust the ALJs to make the "right decision" -- the one that Congressional Republicans demand -- so they want to take the issue out of their hands.