Below is a comment posted on this blog concerning the Electronic Bench Book (eBB) for drafting Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions that I think deserves more attention:
David Hatfield said...
This should have been a classic case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but some just could not leave well enough alone. FIT [Forms Integrated Template] was designed by a handful of users from the hearings operation. Decisions were made by me, an ALJ, with input from users. Then Commissioner Barnhart saw the wisdom of allowing adjudicators to create their own tools, and she gave me full decision authority to make it happen. It was done by users for users. Expenses were virtually zero, utilizing the amazing talents of SSA's DGS [Digital Government Strategy] staff. We created the system in less than a year, and by the following year almost every decision was written in FIT and it was embraced by almost every ALJ. Why? It saved folks time, and led to better written decisions. ALJs liked it because the quality of drafts increased, allowing the ALJs to hear and decide more cases instead of editing drafts all day. Decision writers liked it as the prompts inside the templates gave them a virtual GPS, saving them time and reducing errors. Perhaps most importantly it allowed for flexibility and did not impede the huge process of hearing and deciding cases. We never had to mandate its use, as users wanted it. We made modifications based on user input, and everything we did was with the user in mind. We were not concerned with data mining, or production of management reports. FIT was all about making the adjudication process better in quantity and quality. We built in SmartFIT features that eliminated obvious errors, such as not allowing a favorable decision to be written when the date last insured expired before the established onset date, or not allowing a case to be denied when the medical/vocational Grid directed a conclusion of disabled.
True, FIT was and is just a WORD product. But when the agency was looking at a web-based system, it could have easily converted FIT. We urged that. But some thought the hearing level could be converted to the eCAT system that was being designed for the DDS. We tried to convince folks that while the polices at the levels are the same, the adjudicative operations are very different. FIT "fit" the hearings operation. I thought they were listening. eBB was then created, and I, along with a colleague, sat down with a big group of people, none of them hearings operation employees, attempting to guide them toward FIT. However, unlike FIT, eBB had many masters and agendas, each wanting features to serve their own purposes (eg, data mining), or who still wanted elements of eCAT at the hearings level. The primary purpose of creating an adjudicative tool was frustrated. It was clear decisions had been and were being made behind the scenes. As a result, 4 years and a lot of money expended later, eBB is still struggling. It is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, with many of them never having cooked a meal.