May 13, 2016

The "Augmentation Strategy"

     From the statement of Teresa Gruber, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review, to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs yesterday:  
The cases targeted for the augmentation strategy represent only 3.6 percent of our hearings pending and the non-disability cases often involve issues that ALJs [Administrative Law Judges] do not typically encounter.
A small number of AAJs [Administrative Appeals Judges] and staff will specialize in adjudicating the non-disability issues, thus freeing up critical ALJ resources to handle disability hearings. But I want to be clear. Although the augmentation strategy is consistent with the Act and our regulations, this is a temporary initiative aimed at addressing a current need – bringing wait times down to 270 days. It allows us to use highly qualified adjudicators, whom we have thoroughly vetted, as we continue with our extraordinary efforts to hire more ALJs. The augmentation strategy is not part of a plan to replace ALJs in our hearings process.
The augmentation strategy is based on longstanding agency regulations. Since the beginning of the Social Security hearings process in 1940, our regulations have authorized the members of the Appeals Council to hold hearings. Under our current regulations, the Appeals Council has the authority to remove a pending hearing request from an ALJ, hold the hearing, and issue the decision. Moreover, nothing in our existing regulations precludes the Appeals Council from holding a hearing in a case that is before it on request for review or on remand from a Federal court.
When a claimant is dissatisfied with an ALJ hearing decision, she can appeal to the Council. Thus the second set of cases are a subset of cases already before the Council – cases where the Council could have completed action on the appeal but have generally remanded back to the ALJ. Under the augmentation strategy, the Council will complete the action on the case and issue the final decision, thus preventing an additional workload from returning to the hearing offices and freeing ALJs to hold hearings on other cases. The sole objective of this strategy is to increase capacity to hold more hearings and issue decisions so that we can, collectively, reduce the time people and their families are waiting for a decision.
     How can hiring AAJs to do non-disability hearings possibly help more than hiring ALJs? The AAJs will have to spend a large part of their time roaming around the country, far more than ALJs who are already located around the country. I would guess that their productivity will be half that of ALJs. I know that Social Security complains that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) won't give them a bigger roster from which to select ALJs yet there are hundreds of names on the roster now and a new roster is coming. Why take as extreme a step as Social Security is planning? How is this going to look in a few years when a study is done comparing productivity of ALJs and AAJs?


Anonymous said...

This is supposed to be a temporary strategy, only until the wait times come down to 270 days??? That'll be years from now, if ever.

Anonymous said...

Terrible idea. AC request for review processing times are currently awful, with folks waiting over a year and then in 85% of the time simply getting a letter telling them they can proceed to court. They should concentrate on their own work. Also, what this will do is just make the AC permanently larger (when they hire to do this "temporary" work). It's already too big to be a collegial body, which is what it is supposed to be. Put the resources in the field where they are needed, not inside the beltway in the crystal tower.

Anonymous said...

There won't be actual travel, it will all be video hearings.

Anonymous said...

The comparison of the 2 will be bad for the ALJs as the overpayment cases are never represented and never appealed to the district court. The AAJs will have free rein to screw over the unrepped claimants and under Agency orders to do so. Watch and see.

Anonymous said...

Forget crystal towers, no the ALJs are the real untouchables perched in their own ivory towers. When they scream bloody murder anytime they are slightly scratched, congress and ssa runs over and coddles them. Going out of their way to reassure these thin skinned egomaniacs of their undying love and commitment while everyone else is treated like scraps or worse skubala in the agency. "You're the biggest smartest and most wonderful ALJ there ever ever was...kiss kiss and squishy hugs...we love you!" Gag, so sicky sweet it'll give you diabetes.

And did you see that ALJ union president basically thumbing her nose at folks. Disrespectfully calling the Dep. Commissioner by first name at a Congressional hearing.  Don't get it twisted, it's Deputy Commissioner Gruber to to you, Marilyn.

Based on yesterday's tirade you'd think only this upper class group of ALJs are hard at work and have any qualifications. No wonder they look their noses down at the rest like they don't matter and think the ssa world should revolve around them.  They want respect how about showing some. Pathetic

Anonymous said...

Was that Gerald Ray, the reported mastermind behind the AAJ idea, sitting behind Gruber? To her credit, Gruber acknowledged that she's not an attorney and is relying on others to give her advice. But maybe she should diversify her advisors. The public does not understand how Shakespearian SSA institutional culture is - in terms of the number of Iagos whispering in the ears of those with power/responsibility to make decision that will effect the lives of millions of Americans.

Anonymous said...

Gruber refers to AAJ's as, "Highly qualified adjudicators, whom we have thoroughly vetted..."

The recent job announcement to hire 20+ Agency employees to become AAJ's was specifically limited to GS-14 employees, and specifically precluded Senior Attorneys, trained adjudicators, from applying. However, a GS-14 HOD with a law license who is NOT a trained adjudicator could apply. Mark my words, This was done with careful planning so a favorite HOD under fire for engaging in prohibited personnel practices and misconduct can be promoted. HOD's with law licenses are NOT trained adjudicators.

This program is wrong on so many it was created by non-attorneys the powers that be at the top have repeatedly demonstrated they prefer.

I predict a humongous failure if Congress allows it to proceed.

Anonymous said...

Too bad ODAR missed an opportunity to work with AALJ on this. It is a clear violation of the President's edict (reminds me of Astrue's clenched fist approach). It is an opportunity to promote a bunch of insider GS 14s to the AAJ pay scale (tops out at 90% of what a MOC makes, fyi). It will cost the Agency a lot of money for little return. Any denial of a court remand will now go back to court. So the court, having never seen this before and having previously sent it back will have raised eyebrows. So the new AAJs will have to pay everything or be pummeled.

Anonymous said...

Missed opportunity, umm really? The union prez didnt actually come across as looking to further partner any working relationship.

Anonymous said...

Enough of the HOD boogeyman theory being tossed around. the AAJ roster is in fact full of capable and highly trained/experienced people. There are former OGC litigation attorneys, former Appeals Officer adjudicators, former ALJs, former private sector attorneys with many years working in the field of social security or others who handled complex litigation matters and yes some who were at one time hearing office staff. Those who were HODs didn't start off as a HOD (as no one does anyway) before that these people were also decision writers and senior attorneys. So stop throwing rocks at things in the dark. Unlike what you read online or hear at congressional hearings the AC is not filled with ignorant rubes. Is every remand action perfect, of course not, but neither are the thousands of ALJ decisions being reviewed.  So guess what,  the AC is actually filled with well trained qualified and yes capable adjudicators. The AC will do fine at this new role, despite the daggers and the bitter nay saying being thrown its way.

Another thing, I keep reading AC judges have no clue about hearings. first of all you don't know what they have or haven't done in there former work. As pointed out above many do know their way around a hearing and if they don't well that would put them on par with a new ALJ having no hearing experience upon being hired by ssa. Either way there will be training, the same hearing training new ALJs receive. Except that current AAJs already have years of agency policy and regulation knowledge,  and actual case decision making experience under their belts as its ALREADY part of the AAJ job anyway. And by the way the AC already does appearances on special types of cases, look it up.

The AC has highly skilled people and i don't see that changing even with new hirings.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention they have knowledge of the law too, but that should go without saying.

Anonymous said...


Clearly, you are management. The argument that HOD's are not qualified to be AAJ's is NOT a "boogeyman argument," as you contend, but very true and all to real. I am aware of certain HOD's with law licenses who were hired after only a couple of measly years of Agency experience as a GS-12 Staff Attorney. These individuals were NEVER GS-13 Senior Attorneys. Thus, these HOD's have absolutely NO Adjudication experience whatsoever. Some are also African-American, and one of the highest ODAR top officials now at headquarters in Falls Church, VA, was a ROCALJ who willingly engaged in prohibited personnel practices to do this dastardly deed. This person is also African-American and was promoted to a top position in Falls Church by Acting Commissioner Colvin, who also engaged in prohibited personnel practices in order to do so. This was primarily done to maintain the massive cover-up among those at the top, which very heavily leans African-American.

I want to specifically ask Mr./Ms. Manager, why Senior Attorneys, trained Adjudicators, some who date back to the start of the Senior Attorney program in 1995, were specifically excluded from being able to apply for the new 20+ AAJ positions? Please explain the reasons for the complete and utter disdain top Agency heads have toward the Senior Attorney Program? In addition, please explain why you have you not utilized the Senior Attorney program since the backlog first became apparent to attack the 1 million+ backlog of cases? The Senior Attorney program was already in place, and you could have easily promoted more experienced Attorney-Advisors to the Senior Attorney position. Instead, your answer was to all but destroy what remained of the original Senior Attorney program. Over this period of several years now, the Senior Attorneys would have already reduced the backlog of cases by more than your AAJ's will ever be able to do. Just who is whispering in your ears? Are they competent, because this makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

An interesting tidbit I just discovered per the USAJobs website: AAJ's are Management Officials who serve under the 'Management Officials Plan.'

No wonder the top Agency Officials chose to go this route. What could be better than hiring your own "Managers" to be adjudicators? No need to control them because they are already toeing the line of your 'Management' wing.

It's becoming more clear with each passing moment.

Anonymous said...


This is why they are perfectly fine with hiring GS-14 HOD's with law licenses who have never adjudicated a case to be AAJ's. HOD's, or Hearing Office Directors of ODAR Hearing Offices, are nothing more than "Managers," and are already a part of the 'Management' wing.

The reason the Agency wants to move in this direction is quite obvious now.

Anonymous said...

@ 1:25PM,

No, just someone who knows how to not paint with a broad stroke. And there are numerous AAJs who were not previous managers. And there are numerous current ALJs who were once management officials. And again it is a fact that the AC has many highly skilled and knowledgable adjudicators from many backgrounds with years of experience. So yes, "boogeyman theory"

As to your beef about the senior attorney program, I suggest you go ask OQP about that, but your comments covered in race flavored dipping sauce will not help your cause.

But moving to some form of apa application as many have argued on this blog, might address a lot of people's concerns, including some of yours. However both sides have arguments against it, but it could help stop the nosedive toward this contentious abyss. But no one has all the answers, unless you are cornering the market on that as well.

Tim said...

Gerald Ray talks about "quality" and data. First of all, how do you get "data" from medical files? Wouldn't any number used be subjective? Computer brains- put garbage in, get garbage out! Using data, one could find 100 diasabled people as "not disabled" or 100 normal people as "disabled."
When I read some of Ray's comments, I got the impressionn that "quality" is merely his way of saying "fewer approvals." I didn't find anything related to "those denied unjustly." To me, "quality" should be "making the correct decision" based upon someone's limitations! To some, it seems to be, "can you prove it beyond a 'reasonable' doubt!" The standard is preponderance of the evidence. What really bothers me is that a federal judge can call the "evidence" against Tom Brady as "compelling" (Denny Chin) even after Daniel Nash (NFL attorney) admitted to Judge Berman the NFL "HAD NO DIRECT EVIDENCE" against Tom Brady!!! Yet, SSA claims people aren't disabled (according to their rules) with mountains of medical reports!

Anonymous said...

This place is a sinking ship. Total degradation of leadership from the very top to the very bottom in the entire agency. Have never seen anything like it in my 30 years.

Anonymous said...


I am well aware many current AAJ's are knowledgeable and possess legal skills. However, as a Senior Attorney who has been with the program since its inception in 1995 and a Staff Attorney prior thereto for some 30+ years, it is a stretch to categorize them as, "Highly skilled adjudicators," as you assert. Have you ever read demands from the Appeals Council. I have for 30+ years, and they are overwhelmingly poorly written, ambiguous and vague as to the errors the ALJ made. Many are only 1-2 pages. I would hardly describe the authors of these remand orders, "Highly skilled.". Senior Attorneys, on the other hand, have actually been adjudicating cases, speaking with the claimants representatives, holding prehearing conferences, and settling cases for years, despite all the ridiculous restrictions you (management) have unnecessarily placed on the program over the years.

Further, I was referencing the recent job announcement to hire 20+ AAJ's and the limitation to GS-14 Agency insiders, and GS-14 HOD's who have NEVER been Senior Attorneys, and can hardly be considered, Highly skilled adjudicators."

My comments about race were not below the belt either, but based on my own personal observations and experiences. What I have observed is overt Reverse Discrimination first hand.

Anonymous said...

Agree. Don't "Appeals Officers" basically just click "Deny" 15 times a day? How much "skill" does that take? It's not their fault - reportedly, they have unofficial "quotas" too: 15 to 20 a day if they want to get a good performance evaluation. But after doing that type of high volume denial work for a year or two, haven't their analytical legal skills totally atrophied? Are they really ready to go prancing around the country doing hearings?

Anonymous said...

Part 1 of 2

Wow! Look at all that dirty laundry just spilling out and more on the way. Oh my!

I no longer have a dog in the fight but I thought I would put in my two cents.


So you want to clean up ODAR?

1. Stop misusing the OPM cert and hire more ALJs from it and/or work on a SSA specific cert for both insiders and out (pipe down AALJ) and/or bring back the Senior Attorney program (simmer down AALJ). You need more adjudicatory capacity, plain and simple. Trying to stack the deck with AC insiders is not going to do the job. They don't know how to adjudicate cases in the field, their current work load is rubber stamping and they still have their own backlog. Incorporate them into a new SA program so they have some actual adjudicatory experience. Gotta walk before you run. They can apply like all the other insiders if you institute a SSA specific cert.

2. Stop trying to make basic clerical workers adjudicators or having them recommend actions to take on cases. Yes, yes you have to feed the beast that is AFGE. Why don't you work with OPM to justify a grade raise for the work that they already do and provide training and make sure those clerks know how important their jobs are instead of treating them like indentured servants. Now I know that job audits are not normally good things, but OPM wants to get out of the hot water as well.

3. The pilot on reviewing 1K page cases needs to be expanded to include 500 page cases, if not all cases. It is the best idea TPTB have had so far. The bottom line here is that the ALJs need dedicated support staff in the form of attorneys or highly qualified paralegals, not glorified clerks (sorry). You can do this on a voluntary basis. I bet the unions would work with you on this if you stopped all the other BS that you try to pull.

4. Continuing on that theme, stop the nonsense with managers who are still stuck on Axx-in-Seat managing.It doesn't work and you don't have enough resources in a free society to make it work, especially in a digital landscape. This is no longer your father's or even your mother's work place.

To Be Continued

Anonymous said...

Part 2 of 2

5. Stop "secretly" cramming numbers out in the field. Not only is this directly in opposition to Congress's wishes (ie, don't just push through cases), it is counter productive as all you get in return is resentment and crappy decisions that have to be done over. Who out there isn't sick of voluntary remands for stupid reasons? If Congress ever realized what percentage of our backlog, oops I mean pending, is actually do to do overs, they would have a fit. These cases are complex and increasingly evidence heavy, that is the bottom line. Until TPTB actually recognizes this, we are doomed. Look counting numbers is easy, pushing for numbers is easy actually getting those numbers, not so easy. That is why our backlog, excuse me I meant to say pending, keeps growing.

The current TPTB and all those that came before them keep doing the same thing and keep getting the same result. Everyone knows what that is called.

Why don't you try something different. Your people are your most important resource.No matter how much you computerize the process, you need people--lots of people. AI can only do so much in our business environment at this point in its evolution. Just look at the problems with EBB and that is a fairly simple platform. We won't even talk about the Thunder that's whimpering along. So stop throwing money at technology and work on getting more people. Happy people are productive people. These cases need to be done right the first time and that takes time, my friends. Since you can't add more hours to the day, and frankly OT only gives you so much bang for your buck (sorry), you need more people. To get more people you need to work with OPM (for a proper cert)and the support staff unions (so that they don't have a fit over position stagnation)plus the AALJ (because they are so good at causing trouble, they have given AFGE a run for the title of most disruptive)and you need money and lots of it.

So play nicely with all of your "partners" and treat them like true partners. I am sure OPM will play nice because they don't like going up on the hill either. Your Unions will play nice if you play nice and stop arguing over nonsense and treating their members poorly. They all have wish lists, you gotta give to get. Then you all play nice together and come up with a detailed plan with well thought out analysis, including a well written cost/benefit analysis and go to the Hill with it. As a cohesive coalition to the extent possible.

It could work.

Anonymous said...

@4:36PM stated, "But moving to some form of apa application as many have argued on this blog, might address a lot of people's concerns, including some of yours."

Since when have top Agency Heads been concerned about APA Protections? Isn't this why they dislike ALJ's? The APA is what allows the ALJ's to be independent, impartial and not compelled to make decisions based on which ever direction the wind is blowing at a certain time, i.e., deny or pay, at the whim of Agency Heads.

It certainly appears the USAJobs Website categorization of the AAJ position as that of a, 'Management Official' who serves under the 'Management Officials Plan,' is consistent with longstanding actions of Agency Management to tightly control every nut and bolt of Agency operations. It is the APA which is supposed to protect ALJ's from being subjected to such control, and the Agency has despised this for years.

Therefore, your assertion the Agency may be interested in moving to some form of APA Protections for AAJ's is suspect. Moreover, your intimation of, 'Some form of APA Protections,' suggests you believe the APA can be carved, divided and cut up
to the satisfaction of top Agency Heads. It seems to me that defeats the whole purpose of the APA, no?

Face it, Agency Heads are pushing for AAJ's because they are, 'Management Officials,' who serve under the 'Management Officials Plan,' and much more easily controlled and compelled to toe the Agency line than ALJ's.

That you now believe you can carve out the APA to suit your needs and obtain the Congressional OK to move forward with the, 'Augmentation Strategy,' is telling in that far too many non-attorneys occupy the highest power and decision making positions in the Agency, and ODAR, in particular, which is a 'Hearings office' where due process is supposed to be allotted to each claimant, or in the very least, some semblance of it. The more Orwellian bureaucratic structure of SSA which favors non-attorneys and those who do not possess more professional credentials, is NOT a good fit for ODAR and the Hearings processes of the Agency. You simply cannot and should not have non-attorneys and those without appropriate professional credentials in the highest power and decision making positions and expect the Hearings processes to operate like a fine oiled machine.

Anonymous said...

@12:57 & 1:55PM, Parts 1 and 2:

YOU NAILED IT!!! As a 30+ year Senior Attorney, KUDOS TO YOU!!!

I sure hope Congress and TPTB read your posts and take them to heart.


Anonymous said...

I'll be clearer. The earlier comments were about the constant dissing of the AC. Also, i was not asserting or intending to imply that the agency is interested in moving towards the apa or anything else. i don't know what they're doing! And by the way, i don't speak for the agency! To your point, management may very well have zero interest in the apa since it would mean giving up control and im guessing the union is not interested either cause they probably see it as a turf invasion and think ac judges are not good enough to join their club.

Point being though is if youre still gonna have ac judges do hearings it might be smart to apply the apa to protect the public and due process and avoid claimant law suits. Plus for this to work the agency may need to include opm more in the aaj hiring to make it more credible. But again thats giving up control too. The union will have to start sounding and acting more like a partner as well. Each side must unclench their fist. Also if longtime and experienced senior attorneys can put in for alj why cant they put in for aaj? That's a legitimate point another commenter made too. During the hearing the deputy commissioner mentioned they intended to open the aaj position to the outside. if that happens maybe through opm, experienced senior attorneys should be able to put in for aaj just as some can already apply for alj spots. If not, why not.

Bottom line, if the agency is really going to push for this augmentation, then something will have to give. Neither side can have it all and its not fair to ask the public/claimant to pay the price. The union protects its members and organization, and I'm guessing opm and ssa will do the same for their interests. But someone has to speak out for the claimant and thats why people mention the apa, but yes add to that better aaj hiring. Additional ideas have been shared on this blog as well.

I think we are all doing the same thing here on this blog and thats trying to figure out a path ahead. We do it here cause we don't have private lines to the Acting Commissioner or other powers that be. Hopefully someone in Congress or other positions of influence will read what we say and come away with some wisdom and insist on protective and credible measures. Or perhaps it will all just be resolved by the Courts. Either way this blog is an important platform to freely discuss and yes debate these ideas.

Anonymous said...

@5:08PM stated, "Also if longtime and experienced senior attorneys can put in for alj why cant they put in for aaj?"

This is exactly the point I have been making. Longtime and experienced Senior Attorneys, real Adjudicators, should NEVER have been precluded from applying for the AAJ positions which were advertised. In fact, rather than using AAJ's in the first place, the longtime and experienced Senior Attorneys who have been on the front line adjudicating for years until Management all but destroyed the program, should have been the Adjudicators Management turned to in the first place - NOT AAJ's. I most definitely concur with the other commenter's who asserted AAJ's are more like, 'rubber stampers' than adjudicators. As I previously stated, I have been reading their remand orders for 30+ years, and nothing you say can convince me they do anything more than 'rubber stamp.'

You, or any other members of Management, still have not answered my question about why top Agency Heads have such utter and complete disdain for the Senior Attorney program in the first place, such that you all but destroyed it in the midst of the worst backlog ODAR has ever had? This is what I do not understand and what makes no sense whatsoever. Is it because AAJ's have 'Judge' in their job title? Or, is it that AAJ's are classified as 'Management Officials'? This is the very type of thing I mean when I assert there are far too many non-attorneys occupying the top power and decision making positions for ODAR and the Hearings process elements of the Agency, e.g., they have no legal background and are the last individuals who should be making decisions about how to run a 'Hearings Office' and the 'Hearings processes' of the Agency. Although there are a few ALJ's and Attorneys in power positions at the top of the Agency, my impression over 30+ years is there are not enough of them. Many appear to be under the control of the majority of Agency Heads who are non-attorneys constantly whispering in their ears.

This has to end. Perhaps the only answer is to separate ODAR and the 'Hearings Process' elements of the Agency from the Orwellian SSA bureaucracy along the lines of what was done with Medicare because my sense is the Shakespearean SSA bureaucracy will be resistant to this, e.g., they will resist losing control. Nevertheless, I believe it must be done.

In addition, since there is absolutely no good reason for the utter disdain Top Agency Heads have toward the Senior Attorney program, it should immediately be reinstated with all the powers the program had when it was first implemented, including signature authority, i.e., absent all the subsequent restrictions placed on it by Management over the years until it was all but destroyed, and let these Real Adjudicators get to work and do what they do best. Then, promote experienced Attorney-Advisors to Senior Attorney positions. Replace their decision writing positions with Attorneys. I am sick and tired of having typists who once typed my dictation, but have been promoted through the ranks to Paralegal Specialist and paid the same salary as an Attorney-Advisor. These individuals are in positions well beyond their capabilities. Many are great Clerks and Support Staffers, but trained legal decision writers they are not. Please also note you cannot train that which simply is not in their background. Moreover, why in the world would any sane Top Managers do this when their are far too many law school graduates with excellent credentials who cannot find employment? Phase out the Paralegal Specialist position, and reward Support Staffers with pay and grade increases at the jobs they do best and which are consistent with their capabilities.

Anonymous said...

By classifying the AAJs as "management", the positions cannot be part of a union. Similarly, National Hearing Center ALJs are "management" who cannot unionize. This allows the Agency to implement its own agenda with less/minimal opposition.
Whether you love or hate the ALJ union, it is some counterweight to the heavy-handed TPTB in Falls Church.

Anonymous said...

to 5:08

you are right - the agency is riddled with former clerical workers who have been promoted into "paraprofessional", management analyst or personnel specialists........most are working in jobs far beyond their abilities and education - and the results are clear - other people especially managers have to put up with their inept contributions or do the work these positions are supposed to do.........

grade 12 and 13 for management analysts and paralegals without training and ridiculous - these people stay on forever since they are making twice as much as they could in the private sector.

most personnel specialists are clerks - over promoted who can't interpret the rules accurately or consistently -

and back to the 30 year senior attorney.......somewhat of a misrepresentation isn't it? you may have 30 years in but the senior attorney program hasn't been around that long.......and why was the program limited - but most of them did little more than allow all the cases..........which was proven in multiple quality assurance reviews. Of course they were helpful in pulling down a backlog - but anyone can allow lots of people who don't deserve it under the regulations and many senior attorneys did.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all the commenters who criticize Gerald Ray for turning the AC into a nearly worthless level of appeal. Using Gerald's nonsense performance metrics, management has manipulated production goals in a way that puts AC analysts and adjudicators under extreme pressure to crank out cases. There are some highly skilled analysts who try to review cases fairly and consistent with the rules and regs; that approach often leads to a grant review recommendation. But in terms of performance evaluations and promotions, conscientious analysts are at a huge disadvantage to the majority of analysts who will just recommend denial 80-90% of the time (or more) using any excuse they can think of--because it's faster. Many denial recommendations hinge on bias against younger claimants. Many denials cite the DDS medical opinion as "substantial evidence" even when DDS didn't give any rationale to explain their findings, and they are contradicted by clinical evidence in the record. At least one analyst who is favored by management teaches other analysts that they do not have to look beyond the "four corners" of the hearing decision to check for inconsistencies with the record, and that they don't have to review the credibility finding.

Anonymous said...

1248 am, I have to correct a common misperception that keeps getting bandied about. There were actually two Senior Attorney programs. The first ran from the early to mid 1990s and ended with the advent of HPI. We will call that SA1. SA1 was a very successful program, paid cases properly at the earliest point in the hearing process. A quality review performed by an outside entity, I want to say OMB, of SA1 cases resulted in an agree rate of approximately 95%, which was higher than the ALJ agree rate at the time and the backlog was vanquished. So what happened if SA1 was all that and a bag of chips?

The ALJs had an absolute fit about making that program permanent. So in order to get the ALJs on board with HPI, TPTB gutted signatory authority for SAs and pretty much limited their numbers to those already in the position, give or take.

Jump ahead 8 or so years and the backlog is back. SA2 comes along, morphs into the VSU. The backlog is vanquished again. Then WV comes along and OTRs are the devil's own. In the middle of all this, QA does a in-house review of SA2 cases and finds them sorely lacking. To quote my favorite lay minister, how convenient.

Now here we are back at square one and the only proven remedy is not squarely on the table because of the anti-attorney sentiment from the DO all the way to the AALJ to which OCALJ panders.

Anonymous said...

@12:48AM stated, "and back to the 30 year senior attorney.......somewhat of a misrepresentation isn't it? you may have 30 years in but the senior attorney program hasn't been around that long.......and why was the program limited - but most of them did little more than allow all the cases..........which was proven in multiple quality assurance reviews. Of course they were helpful in pulling down a backlog - but anyone can allow lots of people who don't deserve it under the regulations and many senior attorneys did."

I am the 30+ Senior Attorney. Do you think I walked in off the street to the Senior Attorney position? No, I earned the Senior Attorney position through years of hard work as an Attorney-Advisor. I have been a Senior Attorney since the program began in 1995.

Your assertion most attorneys simply paid off the backlog, and did not follow the regulations and laws is a slap in my face and all other Senior Attorneys. If you are a member of Management, and I suspect you are, you should be removed from Management for saying this because it is completely and utterly false. You are, indeed, part of the problem. Senior Attorneys NEVER paid off the backlog. The only time I concede some Senior Attorneys may have paid more than they otherwise would have was, now get this, when Management pressured us to produce numbers, numbers, numbers and quality be damned!!! Moreover, Performance Evaluations and Awards were also based on Numbers.

I did not allow myself to succumb to the pressure, and I paid the price dearly, I might add. I spent a great deal of my time writing detailed analyses of the cases I reviewed for the ALJ's, made recommendations, RFC determinations and even suggested VE Hypos. Now hear this, I got no credit for this whatsoever - NONE. As I said, I have paid the price dearly. I suspect the Senior Attorneys who ceded to the numbers, numbers, numbers and quality be damned pressure from Management probably did pay some cases they otherwise would not have, but can you blame them? Let me put it this way - Read over what I just said and ask yourself who was punished, who was rewarded and who was responsible. To make sure you get it and it sinks in, Management was responsible, I was punished and those who ceded their conscience to the Numbers/Quality be Damned pressure from Management were rewarded. Do you see what is wrong here?

Anonymous said...


As the 30+ year Senior Attorney who has been a part of the program since it began, I largely concur with your analysis. However, I must admit I never kept up with SA-1 and SA-2 designations of the program. I guess this is because I continued performing the same Senior Attorney work, except the powers I had, including signature authority, were increasingly eroded to the point where the program was all but destroyed. I also concur ALJ's who were critical of the program and believed we were invading their turf, and adversely affecting their production numbers because we usurped many O-T-R's that would have otherwise been credited to them, played a significant role in curtailing powers the Senior Attorneys previously had.

Top Agency Heads and Management were the others responsible for curtailing the Senior Attorney program. For reasons I have never understood, from the very start of the Senior Attorney program, there has been a group of Top Agency power brokers, non-attorneys for the most part, who have always viewed the Senior Attorney Program with complete and utter disdain. In recent years, some of these individuals who had retired, returned as reemployed annuitants, and I believe with the intent to destroy the Senior Attorney program, and they largely succeeded. It is unfortunate that these individuals who failed during their years in leadership positions with the Agency were allowed to return and sink the ship.

In regard to the statistics you cited concerning SA-1 having a 95% agree rate and doubt as to whether the otherwise independently rated successful SA-1 group was genuinely successful or simply paid off the backlog, I was there on the front lines, and from everything I observed and performed as a Senior Attorney during that period, I must say the Senior Attorney program was a resounding success. Here are some of the reasons why the 95% agree rate is a bit of a misnomer and not an accurate reflection: 1) We not only screened cases for potential O-T-R, but every time a support staffer came across a case they thought could be a potential O-T-R, they brought it to us; 2) When we screened cases which we thought had a high potential to be O-T-R's, we had the power to order evidence, specific types of CE's, and MSS's which we believed would more than likely push the case into being an O-T-R, and we did this in addition to talking and negotiating with the claimant's representatives; 3) We also had the power to draft and send out VE and ME Interrogatories when we anticipated the answers we would receive would lead to an O-T-R without a hearing.

Thus, the Senior Attorneys in SA-1 had a great deal more power to control and build a case, which we knew was highly likely going to be a favorable decision by the ALJ in the end anyway. Please note we had time limitations in terms of how long we could hold a case waiting for evidence we ordered to come in, etc. SA-2 removed and further eroded all those powers until the Senior Attorney program was all but destroyed.

I continue to assert the Senior Attorney program with all the powers SA-1 had must be reinstated immediately to address the backlog, and experienced Attorney-Advisors promoted to Senior Attorneys. Being able to order evidence we believed had a high likelihood of resulting in a O-T-R decision sped the entire hearings processing of a case. When evidence we ordered did not result in a favorable O-T-R decision, the evidence was already in the record for the ALJ and the case ready for hearing. We wrote analyses of the case, what we had done, and gave recommendations to the ALJ. During all this time, Senior Attorneys kept in touch with the claimant's representative.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 11:28. As an attorney rep, I loved the SA program. I had good relationships with the SAs at all our state's ODARs. I could call them, or vice versa, and work out reasonable resolutions to the best claims that were going to be eventually paid by the ALJs anyway. The claimants were happy because they received their money quicker. I liked the ability to better manage my caseload by picking off the best cases which allowed me to focus more on the tougher ones. And this win-win helped bring down the backlog. It just makes sense to bring the SA program back.

Anonymous said...

The augmentation strategy is just part of the bigger strategy to centralize the process. The issue here is perceived "control" of the field. Starve the ALJs of staff, have greater oversight in hiring of staff by central office, hire more adjudicators at central office (i.e, AC and national hearing center) and you will get greater consistency and uniformity of decisions. This strategy clearly has not worked. The backlog has grown to unprecedented numbers, writing quality has decreased due to lack of local control, the hearing centers have not been successful, due to their dependence on video hearings, and the idea of AAJs conducting due process hearings is frought with legitimate problems already expressed on this blog. Centralizing a truly local adjudication system has never worked.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - the published data and analysis of the SA programs does not support the opinions of those who wrote their experiences above.

Not a member of management.......just an observer of what is actually analyzed and published.

the whole de novo process is ridiculous anyway. what other administrative appeals system starts over from scratch? the process should be legislated to be appeals only - and the ALJ level would be limited to rule on matters of law only - not starting adjudication over.

Anonymous said...

@6:31AM stated, "Sorry - the published data and analysis of the SA programs does not support the opinions of those who wrote their experiences above."

THIS IS COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY FALSE!!! I am the 30+ year Senior Attorney, and I can personally attest the above statement is a bold faced lie. Moreover, I bet the person making the statement has not been with the Agency 30+ years.

So you have read reports from SSA/ODAR Management, and you accept them as truthful. Boy, have you got a lot to learn. SSA/ODAR Management is highly skillful at manipulating data and statistics to show whatever they wish. They have been doing this for years.

For you to take what I said about the Senior Attorney program and my detailed description of how it, and SA-1, in particular operated, (see @11:28AM above), which I am sure claimants representatives will corroborate, and come back with a "Broad stroke," your words in a previous comment, and assert, "The published data and analysis of the SA programs does not support
the opinions of those who wrote their experiences above," reveals just how out of touch you are with reality sitting somewhere high up in your Ivory tower.

Whether you are Management or a Political Appointee, you clearly have no idea what you are doing and must be removed. If you are an ALJ, you either have not been with the Agency long enough to appreciate what I am saying, or are seeking a HOCALJ position. If you are a member of Congress who has been presented with an array of statistical reports from Management, you are being deceived by some of the best data and numerical manipulators I have ever seen.

Your final statement, "the whole de novo process is ridiculous anyway. what other administrative appeals system starts over from scratch? the process should be legislated to be appeals only - and the ALJ level would be limited to rule on matters of law only - not starting adjudication over."

This statement makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What in the he!! are you trying to say. To speak and write this poorly, I seriously doubt you have earned a Law Degree and possess a law license.

In my opinion, you are so far up in the clouds, you have no idea what you are doing, or you are a fraud/troll. Either way, a disgrace. Again, you are a perfect example of what is wrong with SSA/ODAR and why it is in the mess it is.

Anonymous said...

6:31 Thanks for the confirmation that the SA Program (1 or 2) can still hit a nerve. I may be an old dog, but I can still be a bad dog.

Put your money where your mouth is. You specifically state that you are relying on "published" data. I gave you the source of OMB for the early study. Are you relying on the in house QA report that is not even worth the ink it takes to print it? Really? Go ahead little girl, have another glass of kool-aid.

To the 30 year plus SA, YOU GO BROTHER/SISTER there are not many of us old timers left as they have either driven us crazy or out or both. We did it faster, we did it better and we did without a lot of fuss. And for our efforts they cut our heads cut off. SSA is AXX backwards, literally.

Anonymous said...

@10:06AM stated, "To the 30 year plus SA, YOU GO BROTHER/SISTER there are not many of us old timers left as they have either driven us crazy or out or both. We did it faster, we did it better and we did without a lot of fuss. And for our efforts they cut our heads cut off. SSA is AXX backwards, literally."

I am the 30+ year, "Old Timer," Senior Attorney, and wish to Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I completely concur with everything you said. I appreciate your support.

Anonymous said...

Author of the "broad stroke" comment here. I am not the author of the 6:31AM comments, as suggested, that others are debating. In fact not sure I agree with the limited ALJ jurisdiction comment, which would only make sense if you close the record prior to the hearing level. I don't think the DDS offices would like that idea, given the drastic uptick in new applications that type of move would create so early in a claim. Also disabilty cases are not static as claimant's condition change over time often with worsened or new impairments. So it's wiser to have de novo at ALJ level. With the ac looking at the case after alj review, having non de novo and an appeals posture at that point makes more sense. If something happens with the claimant's condition while the case is with AC, you have critical status procedures and the ssr 11-1p process in place.

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

No credible adjudication even exists at the DDS level, anyway. To suggest de novo would stop there is down right nutty.

De novo at the ALJ level, appeals thereafter, and making a case critical in the event the claimants conditions worsen, which they are bound to do during the years it takes a case to go through the process with the unprecedented backlog, would make sense, but for a large number of ALJ's who simply deny most cases out of personal preference, and pressure from Congress and top Agency heads; and lack of accountability at the AC.

Anonymous said...

So basically 3:04PM, you hate the whole system. Its all bad so why try, does that about sum it up?

Tim said...

4:53 PM You would too if you had been unable to work for 2+ years, worked a total of 11 months in the previous 27 months before that and still were being told you might get a hearing in 6-8 months. And then you might draw an ALJ who might be sympathetic... or you could draw the ALJ who is just looking for an excuse to deny... You've already drawn the short straw in life, so why would you be optomistic in this atmosphere?

Anonymous said...

From the perspective of a GS-13 attorney with the AC, I find it interesting that people think they can leap from Senior Attorney/GS-13 to the SES (which is what an AAJ is) without moving through GS-14 first. This is the government after all, and such things as being a higher grade for a while before being able to move even higher is a reality.

I think the real issue is, there should be a way to move into a more senior role in the hearing offices (something graded as GS-14) without having to be the HOD. It's a problem when whether you are qualified to be a GS-13 or GS-14 attorney at SSA depends on whether you are in the field or headquarters (including the AC and OGC). It's also a problem at headquarters keeping attorneys when they can just move over to another agency that doesn't artificially cap promotions (such as DOJ).