Jun 6, 2016

What's Wrong With This Picture?


Anonymous said...

Let's just keep increasing funding and staffing of the Appeals Council. That should right the ship.

Anonymous said...

People act like technology or something is just going to magically increase productivity by significant margins basically overnight. We need more employees, period.

Anonymous said...

Not only does SSA need increased funding, but it needs to take better ownership of the funding it does receive and utilize it in areas where it will actually make a difference. No more IT boondoggles, less funding to AC and management and more to actual people who can make a difference in productivity.

Anonymous said...

reduce all employees without a college degree to gs 9 and bar them from management. Boom. Huge savings

Anonymous said...

If SSA is paying folks without a college degree at the GS9 level, that certainly seems to me, as an outsider, as mismanagement and overpayment of salaries. Those folks wouldn't be able to derive that level of income in the private sector without some type of degree or specialized skill in a trade/vocation.

Anonymous said...

AMEN. Also, stop paying huge bonuses to top management officials whose concept of managing died with the stone age, e.g., monitoring employees via computer/laptops, a$$'s in seats when in office, and production numbers/quality be fanned mentality, despite pseudo assertions to the contrary. In addition, quit paying long periods of Administrative Leave to undeserving employees while denying same to targeted employees of their misdeeds, and then trying to cover it up.

Anonymous said...

Try GS-13 level at ODAR for clerks who moved up through the ranks to Group Supervisors who, get this, are authorized to manage Senior Attorneys and Attorney Advisors, including their performance appraisals and determination of whether they should be awarded with performance awards or step increases.

Also at ODAR, try Paralegal Specialists, GS-11 & 12, who have also moved up through the ranks. Many typists who formerly typed my dictation years ago are now Paralegal Specialists. Promoted without writing samples, etc. It is NOT a natural progression to be promoted through the ranks all the way up to the same job as Attorney Advisor making the same salary. Moreover, because of seniority, many actually earn a higher salary because they come in at a higher step than an entry level Attorney. They also are not paying on student loans, annual fees to maintain a law license, or the costs of required CLE each year which, with the exception of student loans, all Attorneys are required to maintain a law license. Because of seniority, Paralegal Specialists have historically gotten priority choice in office and furniture selection over the Attorneys. Lest not forget, experienced Senior Attorneys and Attorney Advisors are often tasked with training these former typists and clerks to write legally defensible decisions. Oh boy, what fun! Then one wonders why ALJ decision quality is not better.

This system, which began with HPI in the year 2000, was WRONG AND MISGUIDED then, as it is today, and is a significant contributing factor to why the backlog exists.

Those who thought this was such a great program, many of whom remain top Agency officials today, ought to be fired for lack of common sense. Who in their right mind would think this would improve the functioning of the Agency? Perhaps now you can begin to see the reason the Agency is so dysfunctional, and how it began. These folks have sunk the ship. Instead of being held accountable, however, they keep getting promotions and bonuses, and promoting like minded subordinates to join them.

Anonymous said...

ADDENDUM to my comment above:

Try GS-14 HOD position at ODAR, as well. A clerk can also moved up through the ranks all the way up to GS-14 HOD, or Hearing Office Director. Many have been promoted to this position without having the normally requisite 1-year at a GS-13 level, especially when HPI began in the year 2000.

Anonymous said...

It was a stupid move to promote so many "paralegals," but SSA had little choice. The Unions, AFGE in particular, were all over them to create some higher-graded jobs at ODAR for folks without law licenses, as well as grades high enough to allow the non-attorneys into management.

Since we have limited duties in the ODAR field, writing decisions was the only job that has duties/skills OPM will grade higher than the GS-9 level. All our other jobs--CA/HOSAs, Admin Aides, Lead SCTs, etc--all top out at GS-9. Since a GS-9, even with a lot of experience, usually can't apply to anything higher than GS-11, all ODAR's non-attorneys would have been locked out of management in ODAR and pretty much every other component, Operations being the biggest one that comes to mind.

You can see how few duties ODAR field offices have that justify higher grades aside from management and decision writing related duties with recent events. Gruber, et al, wanted to make that new HOCA position a 9-11-12 ladder without any writing duties. When the positions were actually posted, they didn't have any writing duties, but they were GS-9s without a ladder.

Unless ODAR takes on new duties or significantly reorganizes or something, it seems like there is no way to get jobs for non-attorneys that go higher than GS-9 without a significant decision writing component. I'd love to be wrong here, though.

Anonymous said...

The market is flooded with attorneys who would kill for a job at ODAR. I say downgrade all attorneys/writers to GS9 to save cash. You'll still get 100+ applications for each opening, and lets be real here, it doesn't take a Yale law grad to write decisions. Any Third Tier Toilet attorney will do.

Anonymous said...


It was a "stupid move," indeed. The unions, AFGE specifically, were wrong to insist on this, as well. ODAR is a Hearings Office. As a Hearings Office, it should be hiring attorneys. As the NUT at 4:59PM said, "The market is flooded with attorneys." With that in mind, it makes no sense that ODAR is promoting from its lowest paying entry level jobs all the way up to a GS-14 HOD position. The attorneys in ODAR are the ones who have always been deserving of a career ladder, not support staffers heretofore unable to move beyond the GS-9 level. Salary and benefits at a GS-9 level is excellent for employees without an advanced college degree; it is even remarkable for those who have a 4 year college degree. This should have been the thinking in 2000 with the roll out of HPI, as well as the present.

The primary reason the non-attorneys benefited from this ridiculous bureaucratic scheme is because the top Agency officials who concocted it are also non-attorneys, many of whom are still in those top positions. You cannot have non-attorneys making the most critical decisions about how to run the Hearings process of SSA. No, you need ALJ's and attorneys. This is the exact phenomenon the ALJ Association, and ALJ's in general, have been trying in vain to point out to the Agency for several years.

I also have no sympathy for support staffers who were heretofore (before 2000) unable to move beyond the GS-9 level. There are no comparable private sector jobs with that level of salary and benefits for individuals without a college degree or experienced skill set. The way I see it is these employees can go to college and earn a college degree, even a law degree if they choose, just like their attorney coworkers. Why did the Agency and AFGE bend over backwards to create a career ladder for them, while at the same time denying a career ladder for the ODAR attorneys? I have been a GS-13 Senior Attorney since the program began in 1995. How do you think that makes me, and others similarly situated, feel? I have news for you, happy as I can be is not one of them.

This bureaucratic set up was wrong-headed in 2000, just as it is now, and is demonstrative of why the Agency has the backlog it has, e.g., too many non-attorneys making decisions about how a Hearings process and Hearing Offices should be run. This is insane. One can only hope Congress and those with the power to make necessary changes will see through this facade.

With regard to the NUT at 4:59PM, "Screw You."

Anonymous said...

Well I think we can all agree that the culture of attorney/non-attorney animosity is alive and well. Promoting non-attorneys into what are essentially legal jobs is definitely what the the most powerful Union wanted. Don't think that said Union doesn't put up with backlash from their attorney members, cause they do. But simply put the overwhelming members of that Union are non-attorneys. Really, lets not waste our time on the attorney/non-attorney fight. Just for the record, I am an attorney and I do get the angst. Its just that I have been around long enough to know that no one is ever going to do anything about it. And believe me, I have tried. I mean really tried. Unless some of you young kids have a lot of time on your hands as well as a very high frustration level and think you can mount a de-certification (good effing luck with that), let it go and enjoy the good job with benefits. Everyone knows that the attorneys do a much better job and everyone knows that the ALJS want only attorneys writing their decisions. Instead they get third toilet tier non-attorneys some of the time. The real problem with the Agency is related to this issue but goes a little deeper, to follow Part II

Anonymous said...

Part II

Everyone knows that the Agency as a whole is performing poorly and that ODAR ne' OHA/BHA has a tremendous backlog (oops pending) like never before. What the fudge is going on here? Well there is also a correlation in rise of EEO, Union grievances and other LMR actions at OHA(It's my rant, I can call it whatever I want, so pipe down).

Could the two issues be related?

I would say yes they are related and that the can be traced back to the stuffing of OHA paralegal positions with former DO management bad actors. That was the MO in the 1990s, got a bad manager in the DO? Send them over to OHA as a grade 12 paralegal. Wipe that smirk off your face, you know its true.

Then came HPI and we got even more DO people, who were either handpicked right into management or who came in another competitive position and moved up. Attorneys are in non-competitive positions. What does that mean Virginia? It means that attorneys can only go so far, and depending on how the position is crafted, can be locked out of some positions entirely.

I don't have anything against DO people. However, the DO culture sucks. The DOs are run like sweat shops. Most of management are complete horror stories. Talk about A$$ in seat, OMG, you are glued to that seat. They take micro managing to a whole new level.

It used to be that when people came over from the DO to OHA, they thought they died and went to heaven. It was fairly pleasant to work at OHA. No one was uptight about every jot and jiggle. Guess what? The work got done. And you could call your local HO and actually get some customer service. Now the Operations trolls have taken over everything and have just about destroyed OHA, hell they even changed the name.

What may have worked in the DO does not work in ODAR. That is why our backlog (oops pending) is growing in leaps and bounds. Say what you will about Astrue, he did not starve ODAR. Colvin is an operations girl to the very core and she is not only starving ODAR but she subtly bashes them every chance she gets.

So my argument is that it is a culture change that wrecked OHA and it is a culture change that can save it. It should be lawyers managing a legal process. Just like OPM rewrote the GS and Sr. Atty. PDs allowing non-attorneys to supervise them, they can be rewritten.

That's my rant of the day.

Anonymous said...

Charles posted on here a couple weeks ago that more than 10,000 SSA employees are GS 13 or higher. I guarantee that 75% don't have a college degree. it's pretty disgusting.

Anonymous said...

The dysfunction at SSA is not a funding problem as much as it is a mismanagement problem. Before throwing good money after bad, think about how officials spent the 2009 Recovery Act money that Congress gave SSA - an extra $1 billion. What happened when SSA got that extra funding? Among other things, SSA management officials immediately got huge unprecedented bonuses. It was like Wall Street in SSA. Here are some of the individuals who got bonuses upon receipt of the Recovery Act money:

Ronald Rayborg: $62,895 bonus in 2010 on top of his $179,700 salary. About a year later, wasn't he gone from SSA?

David Rust: $35,940 bonus in 2010 on top of his $179,700 salary. He seems to have left the agency a couple of years later too.

Gregory Pace: $35,395 bonus in 2010 on top of his $176,976 salary. Still around. What did he do to merit a $35K bonus?

Nancy Ann Berryhill: $34,995 bonus in 2010 on top of her $174,776 salary.

John Simermeyer, $32,551 bonus in 2010 on top of his $162,755.

Patricia Jonas: $31,002 bonus in 2010 on top of her $155,013 salary. She oversees the AC. What she did do to earn the $31K bonus in 2010?

The purpose of the 2009 Recovery Act was to "jump start" the economy, right? So what exactly did these people do to jump start the economy? Was it ok for SSA officials to take the Recovery Act money and turn around and start giving huge bonuses to management officials as if they were Wall Street investment bankers? Shouldn't there be some internal audits and accountability first before considering more funding for SSA.

Anonymous said...

AND the SSA is looking for frauds among beneficiaries? The tiered system never worked and obviously it shows but the unions let it happen because they make out with unions dues no matter what, nothing like helping the employer sink for privatization. The more incompetence in the SSA, the more response will be provided to privatize the SSA for the Wall st elite, just like what is happening in the VA.
This started with a particular CEO of a HMO back in the 80's who paved the way to dummy down the government for private takeover and so far its working. The elite don't want efficient govt or otherwise they'd have to pay more in taxes. Now with incompetence, they can say govt doesn't work and no reason for them to pay anything, even though they haven't paid much for several decades.Those that get bonuses are aiding those who want privatization, nothing like sellouts. :(

Amishboy51 said...

Not that it matters all that much, at this point in time, but my recollection/understanding is that OHA capitulated to the employee unions on promoting clerical staff to "paralegal" positions because they were pushing to implement HPI before Astrue took over, and suddenly realized, on the verge of implementation, that they'd forgotten to negotiate with AFGE and NTEU; hence, in exchange for the unions signing off, the agency agreed to their demands for no loss of jobs and virtual across-the-board upgrades and raises.

Anonymous said...

If you don't have a law degree then get back in the bowels of the ship and row with the rest of the slaves. My law school elites and I will right this ship ourselves while fighting off the evil management pirates that are out to steal our judicial independence. But don’t bother me on Monday, Tuesday, or Friday, I’m teleworking.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the longest rants on this thread are from a mad attorney at ODAR, who can't get promoted. Maybe that is because he/she spends their work hours ranting here instead of focusing on their work?

Anonymous said...


I would hardly consider the vast majority of comments on this thread a "Rant." For you to characterize them as such speaks volumes about your lack of intellectual and emotional intelligence. If you are a member of management or top Agency officials, your assertion is a perfect demonstration of why the Agency Hearings process is so dysfunctional.

For the record, I am but one of several Agency attorneys, ODAR & other), who has commented on this thread and others on this board. Frankly, if you have nothing substantive to add to the discussion, please refrain from making further comments and leaving no doubt as to your mentally challenged intellectual and emotional IQ. You are a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

The problem is this. We are the largest law firm in the world, run by non-attorneys. Doesn't that sum it up???

Anonymous said...

Hi author of Parts I and II here and arguably some of the longest rants on this board. I use the term rants in an affectionate way. Sure I'm dysfunctional in some ways. Who isn't? I have been promoted plenty and have a very good view to boot. You could say I am at the top of the heap.

I'm not disgruntled, just disgusted at how poorly this Agency is run into the ground by non-attorneys who don't have a clue or even give a rat's a$$ about the claimant's or heaven forbid due process. I have to listen to these idiots every day trying to manage a rather complex area of law (sorry to those who think any toilet tier attorney could do it, but it is complex)in which they are truly clueless. I would love to see some of those non-attorney GS supervisors have to actually write cases. It is in their PD and rumor has it, it is coming to a theater near you soon. Start quaking. I know that some of them are already a little defensive over it and it has even come to be yet. Oh, what fun. I cannot wait. Lets see how much we hear about 8&4 then. 8&4 days maybe.

If you feel like you are a slave in a galley, that is your problem. Sounds like an inferiority complex to me. Get over it.

As for posting at work, please don't insult my intelligence and I won't insult yours.

I know that the non-attorneys honestly believe that they can do anything an attorney can do. Who can blame them after the way the Agency has treated them as equals. Look, before I became an attorney in the dark ages, I thought, those attorneys are idiots I can be an attorney if I wanted to. I quit my job got my law degree several grueling years later. Now I know what the difference is and unless you go through it, you won't understand.

So shut up or put up and get your law degree. In the mean time thank your lucky stars that the Agency lets high school graduates do the same job as educated, licensed attorneys. You should get down on your knees and give thanks, you are so lucky.

Yes, 4:21 that very elegantly sums it up and that is why we are such a mess.

Anonymous said...

The Third Tier Toilet attorneys on this thread are MAD! Sorry for your poor life choices.

Anonymous said...

I agree mostly with 10:33 (who, I'm guessing, is an ALJ?). Most seasoned (beat down) ODAR GS 12/13 attorneys would enjoy seeing all the non attorney GS 14 HODs and GS 13 "group soups" start producing legally defensible denial decisions in cases with 1k+ page F sections - and do every draft in a single day. Good luck to the ALJs who have to edit those!

I disagree with 10:33 to the extent that he or she says non-attorneys are the only ones running the agency ("to the ground"?). Note that Patricia Jonas, a beneficiary of a $31K Recovery Act bonus, is an attorney running the Appeals Council . Some would say her greatest, or at least most notable, achievement was unleashing Gerald Ray (also an attorney) on the agency. Perhaps that's why Astrue gave her a $31K bonus with Recovery Act public funds?

Gerald Ray has put himself out there as a public figure by giving a lot of interviews about his role in transforming production expectations in ODAR. So he seems fair game for discussion. Something about Ray's use of multisyllabic words like "data analytics" and "heuristics" seems to have captivated the SSA power structure. He managed to convince Colvin a few years ago to create "The Gerald Ray Academy" in his honor. And some people actually refer to "The Academy" with a straight face.

In every interview, Ray slickly connects himself with Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman - but has anyone actually verified that Ray has any legitimate connection to Kahneman or whether he has even a rudimentary understanding of Kahneman's work in behavioral psychology? Ray describes Kahneman as an economist, yet Kahneman is primarily a research psychologist.

Also, keep in mind that "back in the day," ODAR used public funds to pay for a lot of "promising" non-attorneys to go to law school at night (most, if not all, of the chosen few went to the George Mason evening law school program). It would make sense that beneficiaries of that program have since advocated for other non-attorneys to advance in the agency. (It's possible that Gerald Ray himself might have benefited from the SSA-funded law school deal - he started in the agency as a non-attorney and somewhere along the line, he managed to get a law degree. Can anyone confirm?) If public money was used for this stuff, then the public certainly has a right to know. As someone else said previously, SSA management spends a lot of money focusing on claimant fraud - meanwhile, who is watching how SSA managers use public money to reward themselves and garner loyalty by rewarding those "beneath" them?

Anonymous said...

@11:39PM, June 7,

True to form, another poorly reasoned and written comment from one of ODAR's non-attorney paralegal specialists.

Talk about an inferiority complex. Get off your a$$, get a law degree and stop your jealous whining.

Also, you are "Sorry," but not for your attorney coworkers - For you, and lack of a law degree.

BTW, earning a law degree and law license requires a lot of grueling work, which most Agency non-attorneys couldn't begin to handle.

Anonymous said...

1139 don't flatter yourself

1254 I agree that there are plenty of agency attorneys that add to the problems involved in poor management and that they are usually the ones who got their degree on the Agency dime. Inbred is the word that comes to mind. Attorney Ray oops he prefers to be known as Judge Ray does come to mind now that you mention it. In any case even the inbreds have at least some sense of due process albeit warped to fit the Agency's objective.

Anonymous said...

@1:09PM, Oh, I am not flattering myself one bit. To the contrary, I have spoken the truth, and there is plenty of evidence to support the assertions I have made. The non-attorneys running the Agency have sunk the disability hearings portion of the Agency via self-serving mismanagement by giving themselves huge undeserved bonuses and salary increases, and to like minded subordinates; documented long periods of paid Administrative Leave to employees accused of wrongdoing while ignoring the employee targets of their misdeeds, including criminal conduct, despite the horrific circumstances they have been subjected to, not to mention corroboration from Federal investigators; years of other prohibited personnel practices engaged by Agency managers, and rewarded and encouraged by their top Agency supervisors; continuing to manage with outmoded, illogical and ineffective management techniques which died with the last century, and lends itself to creating an abusive work environment, eg., unrealistic numerical production goals as in 8 & 4, monitoring of employees via technology installed on laptops/computers, a$$'s in seats when in workplace mentality, encouraging coworkers to tattle on one another over minute frivolous things; and agreeing with AFGE in 2000 to allow support staffers to automatically be promoted the greater levels than GS-9, even though they lack the qualifications and skills, while at the same time trying to destroy the Senior Attorney program, and refusing to establish a career ladder for attorneys.

The list goes on and on. The bottom line is non-attorneys and inbred attorneys are responsible for sinking the ship and creating the disability case backlog. Unless or until they are held accountable, the ship will continue to sink because they are clueless about what to do. That is quite obvious by comments they have undisputedly made on this blog.

For the record, I cannot wait until non-attorney HOD's and GS's have to write decisions. It will undoubtedly be quite the spectacle.

Anonymous said...

143, 109 here, my comment about flattering was directed to 1139pm 6/7

I was actually agreeing with your comments sorry for any confusion

Anonymous said...


Apology accepted. I did not realize the same times attributed to the earlier remarks in the thread. I appreciate your support.

Anonymous said...

I worked in DDS many, many years ago. Also worked in one of the regions and spent a great deal of time in Baltimore. I worked with several folks and couple of judges for the HPI project. Have been a claimant representative for over 10 years now and one thing I recall from my time in region and Woodlawn. The number one topic for most SSA feds was who was making what, who was promoted from one GS# to another or who got a raise. Must say after reading this thread the myopia continues. There's more concern about who got what who did what to whom, rather than what real solutions to this hearings odar mess would look like.

Anonymous said...

In this market, attorneys are a dime a dozen and are desperate for work related to law, so I agree that the agency should hire only attorneys to be writers. I don't see much point in Senior Attorneys now that they rarely adjudicate, but maybe they could be better utilized as mentors/trainers for Attorney Advisors and work on pre-hearing interviews with claimants.

For management, I believe the agency should hire those with a management background and with degrees in business, economics or statistics. Management in any form is a numbers and people game.

In summary, hire attorneys to do attorney work. Hire managers to do management work. Hire tech people to do tech work. Hire clerks to do clerk work.

To those attorneys at the GS13 level, have you tried applying to be an ALJ? I know a number of Senior Attorneys that went that route and are very happy. There are also attorney positions at the Regional Office level, like Regional Attorney and Quality Review Officer, which are GS14.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

3:58 here.

I forgot to ask, what region/s are you in where you have managers and others above GS9 without a college degree? In my region, everyone has a college degree, even 90% of the GS-5 Case Techs. Are the people you speak of oldies that have been in the agency forever?

Anonymous said...

The attorney/non-attorney pissing match is entertaining. How many of the attorneys at SSA have ever really practiced law?

Anonymous said...

@ 4:40PM

Great question! And an even better question would be how many of the attorneys at SSA would actually be capable really practicing law.

Anonymous said...


Senior Attorneys should immediately return to adjudicating cases, which was the whole purpose and intent of the Senior Attorney program. Those Agency officials responsible for scaling back and centralizing the program, ie non-attorneys, should be held accountable for inept management. The decision to return Senior Attorneys to adjudicating should be done immediately without question given the backlog. I will not accept for one minute the Senior Attorney program will not be returned to adjudication in the future because at some point, more sane people will inevitably be put in top Agency positions and make this obvious decision.

Your assertions about training and mentoring make me sick. I do not have any trouble training and mentoring attorneys from time to time, but please do not require attorneys to train anymore non-attorneys. I usually get stuck with those who cannot write despite training class, and are the ones ALJ's constantly complain about. You cannot mentor or train that which simply is not there to begin with. You are wasting my, and any other attorneys time, when you do this. Do you honestly think there's anything we can do? The problem is that these individuals, in particular, were ever placed in these positions, and you must deal with it.

I have been a Senior Attorney since the program began. Don't you think I have tried and applied to become an ALJ, not to mention other opportunities over the years?

Dealing with OPM obstacles to become an ALJ is a nightmare, as many of us know. Moreover, it is impossible when you have been criminally set up to fail by forces beyond one's control.

The same is true for other opportunities, as well. Add to this a disability, inability to relocate as I have gotten older, and it is all but impossible.

All of this becomes especially intriguing when you consider I have a long history, ie, years, of achieving performance awards and QSI's for outstanding performance in terms of both quality and quantity. In addition, over a period of several years, I now have proof of intentional and undisputed discrimination on the basis of disability, sex in the context of sex stereotyping and domestic violence, reverse race, hostile work environment and age.

You see, folks, I was illegally forced out of my job by Agency officials who engaged in prohibited personnel practices, including criminal misconduct, for which the highest Agency officials, ie, Colvin on down, continue to cover-up.

Anonymous said...

4:58 I am so sorry that they did that. And for all you doubting Thomas's out there, yes this crap really does happen.

4:04 and 4:29 you would be surprised how many OHA attorneys have practiced law and still do. We can certainly tell what kind of person you both are. Superiority complex anyone? There are outside attorneys just begging to get in our doors and I mean reps with a good practice. Apparently neither one of you have a clue about reality.

3:58, I don't necessarily disagree with what you are saying, but you should not have non-attorneys managing a legal process or micro-managing attorneys.

Anonymous said...

3:58, non-attorneys managing attorney goes against the canon of ethics inmost states. And yet, ODAR thinks it's okay..

Anonymous said...

They get away with by claiming that the non-attorneys do not "direct" or review the attorneys' work. Hell they don't. It is almost hysterical trying to explain due process protections to some of these automatons that have mainlined the Agency Kool-Aide.