Aug 4, 2016

Going To Hell In A Handbasket

     Below is Social Security's Hearings Caseload Analysis Report for the first nine months of fiscal year (FY) 2016, which began on October 1, 2015. This was published in the newsletter of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR). That newsletter is not available online.
     Here are some signs of just how badly things are going:
  • The adjusted case receipts for the nine month time period were 746,300. The dispositions were 662,522. This means they were only able to handle 89% of the workload they received.
  • They had 977,736 cases pending at the beginning of the FY and 1,121,267 cases pending as of the end of June (actually June 24, which the agency treats as the end of June). That's a 15% increase in the backlog.
  • Look at the bizarre stops and starts in overtime. It went from 109.75 hours in November 2015 to 48,924.74 hours in December but then declined to 85.5 hours in March. Why? Social Security surges its overtime as soon as it gets an appropriation. That number then rapidly declines as the money starts to run out. It's boom or bust.
  • Take a look at the note at the bottom. The Senior Attorney program only disposed of 732 cases in this nine month period! This is ridiculous. It's less than the productivity you'd get from two Administrative Law Judges. That number of Senior Attorney decisions could be multiplied by 100 without having causing harm. All that would happen is that the sickest claimants, the ones who will certainly be approved anyway, would be approved more quickly. The Senior Attorney program has been subjected to such extreme limitations that it cannot function. It's a waste of resources. Don't tell me that agency management cares about the backlog. They know well that the Senior Attorney program could be a huge help in holding down backlogs but they either don't care or they're adopted the attitude of many Congressional Republicans that the only good disposition of a Social Security disability claim is a denial.

Click on report to view full size


Anonymous said...

The numbers you cite in the first bullet are actually last year's numbers.

Anonymous said...

the National Adjudication Team (senior attorneys) is a guess what, they just added 50 more attorneys to the team.

Anonymous said...


I fully concur with your analysis of the Senior Attorney program. As the 27+ year SA who was illegally forced out of my job, I described in detail in recent posts how getting the Senior Attorney program up and running as it was originally implemented in 1995 could immediately begin reducing the backlog.

At this point, management's refusal to do this has reached the level of malfeasance of public officials for which they should be held fully accountable. This has gone on for so long now it transcends mere incompetence and has reached the level of malfeasance, which must be appropriately addressed by Congress and the President. The lives of the most vulnerable disability claimants who will more than likely be paid are at stake. In fact, they may very well die before their cases are heard. Any such deaths will be on their hands.

Anonymous said...

As the first comment indicated, your first bullet point would be the ratios from 2015. Through June this FY receipts are 535616 and dispositions are 474611. this though is essentially the same disposition to receipt ratio as last year 88%. The only good news is the trend line is in the right direction, the DISP/REC ratio in october was only 72% whereas in June it was 96% and in May was actually 101%. The bad news is the trend line improvement is almost solely attributable to fewer apps being filed and therefore fewer receipts at the hearing level not in any significant increase in dispositions.

Anonymous said...

As a claimant representative who remembers the days when Senior Attorneys would actually respond to an On The Record; it is a no brainer to use Senior Attorneys. In fact, I believe if done competently it would reduce the backlog by 50 – 75%. So why doesn’t SSA do so?

Some ALJs who are threatened that someone else can do at least part of their jobs?

The expense? I believe the agency cares more about spending money on CDRs now than it does about the hearing backlog. It’s one of the Republican’s favorite programs.

General incompetency and hubris at the SSA leadership level?

All three apply in my opinion. Until the congress confirms a Commissioner who actually knows what the priorities should be in SSA Disability, the backlog of hearings will grow and Senior Attorneys will remain on the bench.

Anonymous said...

Y'all can forget about SAA adjudicatory/signatory authority coming back en masse. I am a manager and at my training not that long ago, Steve Nash (no, not the basketball star), the guy who is over the NAT among other things, was asked directly if the plan was to roll out the NAT model to all SAAs. He answered without a moment's hesitation that there were no plans to roll signatory authority back out en masse and that the NAT would never be that big.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that there were only 736 Senior Attorney decisions in the last 9 months. I am a small player in this system, and I have had 2 in the last 6 months and 1 up with a Senior attorney right now! Does anyone know how they decide which cases go to Senior Attorneys? I have a couple of cases that would be slam dunks if I could get someone to just look at the file. Think claimants in their late 50s who can not return to their work and have no transferable skills. Would love it if we could request senior attorney review on cases.

Anonymous said...

11:44AM Here:

Getting the Senior Attorney program up and running right away should not entail any cost. All that is necessary is to allow all the experienced Senior Attorneys in the field hearing offices return to being actual Senior Attorneys, and remove all the restrictions placed on what SA's could do over the years until management all but destroyed the program. Also, allow the National Adjudication SA team to have the same powers.

(For the record, the emphasis on centralization, such as the SA NAT, is costly and unnecessary. Just allow SA's to work from their field hearing offices. The entire centralization management strategy is unnecessary and costly).

In hearing offices where there are experienced Attorney Advisors, promote some to be SA's as the budget allows. This would be much less costly than hiring ALJ's. The point is to deal with the backlog immediately - Just do it!

Management should have the power to do this immediately without going through any bureaucratic nonsense. If the ALJ's abhor the SA program, they can suck it up. They are not going to lose their jobs or pay anyway, plus they are protected by the APA.

Moreover, SA's operate under management's control, and we all know that is what they want anyway. This was the thought process behind the centralization strategy anyway.

The point is for management to do what you can do right now to immediately reduce the backlog. Experienced SA's already know what to do - No training necessary.

Management, you can have this up and running before the close of business today - Just do it! You can still fiddle fart around with your AAJ and hiring new NAT SA ideas, and hire more ALJ's, but that ALL takes money and everyone of these hirees requires extensive training. None will have an immediate effect on reducing the backlog - Experienced SA's will.

Anonymous said...

The NAT SA are field SAs who work from their home field office. They attend some training in Falls Church then go back home. They aren't hiring anyone to the SA position anymore.

The SA and paralegal position is going to fizzle out. The GS12 attorney could easily do any SA work after a year or so. As stated before, disability law is not hard. With the oversupply of attorneys from the 180 schools and dismal attorney job market that will never come back, they will never run out of a supply of barred attorneys willing to work for GS12 pay and benefits.

Anonymous said...


One of the posts above indicates the Agency just hired 50 NAT SA's. So, it does not appear TPTB have completely decided to eliminate th SA program. Otherwise, why hire 50 more? Personally, I believe eliminating the SA program is a big mistake. Phasing out the Paralegal position is wise.

While GS-12 Attorneys with experience can perform SA work, and there are plenty of Attorney's in the job market who will work at the GS-12 level, I do not believe the Agency would be doing itself any favors by not providing some promotional level or career ladder for those attorneys at some point. The SA program would serve such a purpose. Otherwise, the Agency will constantly be training new attorney hires because the experienced GS-12 Attorneys will eventually leave for greener pastures.

I disagree with your blanket assertion that SSA Disability law is simple and easy to learn. Clearly, it varies with each case. We recently had this discussion on another thread in this blog so I will defer to it.

However, I do have one question: Exactly what is the difference between a NAT SA and regular SA's?

Anonymous said...

They didn't hire 50 NAT SA they allowed 50 more existing field office senior attorneys to participate in the NAT detail for a year.

The 12s won't leave. There are no greener pastures. A couple years in you pigeonhole yourself into disability law and the plaintiff side is not greener unless you own a successful practice.

Regular SA write more difficult or complicated cases. They recently started doing pre hearing conferences in some areas of the country. Basically a bunch got promoted to SA back in the hayday of the SA adjudication program. The agency can't demote them and has struggled to find good use for them since.

Anonymous said...

@11:52PM, Part 1,

So, regular SA’s have been relegated to glorified decision writers who are assigned more difficult cases while some non-attorney Paralegal Specialists are assigned easy cases but earn more money because of their overall seniority with the Agency. Even though the Agency appears to have come to the realization you cannot turn clerks into attorneys, they are finally going to phase out the Paralegal Specialist position. NAT SA’s get to perform what nominal SA work remains of the SA program, after the Agency chipped off powers SA’s originally had bit by bit over the years, including signatory authority, until the program is barely a skeleton of what it was when it was rolled out in 1995. Congratulations, management and top Agency officials. You have finally succeeded in destroying the one truly successful program ever in ODAR. Prediction: This will come back to bite you in the a$$, as it should.

Another underlying theme I have noticed from some commenters in recent posts, including yours, is a tendency to denigrate SA’s who preceded you, some dating back to the start of the program in 1995, as if the work they performed was not the quality of what SA’s today perform, or that they simply paid down the backlog. NONE of this is true. To the extent management pushed numbers, numbers, numbers and quality be damned, especially during the Astrue era, I admit some SA’s may have felt pressured into paying some cases they otherwise would not, but this was not a systemic problem – It was a management problem.

Anonymous said...

Part 2,

As the 27+ year SA who was illegally forced out of my job for no good reason, all SA’s and Staff Attorney’s should be aware of what they did to me because you may very well be next. If they succeed in what they have done to me, I have no doubt they will start going after you, starting with long term SA’s, because getting rid of SA’s is this manner will enable them to destroy the SA program quicker. Unfortunately, there are some callous, corrupt top officials and managers in this Agency whose choices and conduct transcends mere incompetence and has crossed over to malfeasance. It can and does happen.

For the record, I would not have accepted an Attorney position with ODAR right out of law school if the Supervisory Attorney with whom I interviewed had not talked at length about the Agency trying to start a career ladder for attorneys with the ultimate career goal of trying to become an ALJ one day with ODAR, which hires the majority of ALJ’s, and that if you performed exceptional work as an ODAR Attorney, the Agency would obviously be most interested in selecting experienced ODAR Attorneys for ALJ positions. This Supervisory Attorney, and others with whom I subsequently interviewed, went on to become ALJ’s. I had other offers. Despite coming aboard and being an exceptional performer in terms of both quality and quantity, Performance Awards and/or QSI’s every single year over a period of consecutive 12 years, accolades from ALJ’s, etc., I was denied every promotional opportunity, and my ability to compete to become an ALJ was intentionally and criminally obstructed and interfered with.

The GS-12 Attorney position allegedly planned for the future with no promotion potential is not going to be attractive to many. Persistent decision writing without more will have a limited tenure for some because of the monotony. Due to life circumstances, it may serve some well for a period in their lives, but it will never be considered a career position. Thus, there will be a fairly steady turnover which will require persistent training.

Anonymous said...

lol Charles so wishes he could ban you...

Yea, I came in after the SA program died in the NCAC phase. My beef has more to do with doing the same work for a grade less and no ability to get to SA. But I don't think there should be any SAs. The agency should be able to demote them. Pay them for the job they're doing. Make the NAT a detail for 12s. Make paralegals 9s.

Regarding employment, obviously you're an older attorney based on your 27 years experience. I find that older attorneys routinely fail to grasp the legal job market since 2008. They remember when they worked or graduated when being a lawyer was so rare and prestigious. Now everyone's a lawyer, because no one could get a job and didn't know what to do with their worthless bachelors. Then they went to one of the 180 schools the ABA accredited. No rational parent called it a bad idea. Lawyers will always have jobs and make big money, they said. Law school admissions are open, there is an accredited school that will take you regardless of your credentials. New grads don't have the option to take another job. You know SSA gets like 500 applications in a day when they put these positions on USAJOBS. New grads, outside the ivy league, have six figures of debt and no job prospects. They would kill for a GS12 salary and public service loan forgiveness.

Anonymous said...


If Charles wishes to ban me, nothing is stopping him. To the contrary, why would he want to ban me? Everything I have said in recent posts from my nearly 3 decades with ODAR and SA since 1995, and my current circumstances thanks to ODAR managers who engaged in misconduct, wrongdoing and even criminal acts where I am concerned, speak to the very issue Charles and other SSA Disability Claimant Attorneys on this blog want - The return of the original SA Program because they know how successful it was and can be; and communication about what is going on with SSA and ODAR, which is responsible for the unprecedented backlog, e.g., mismanagement, non-attorneys in top Agency positions unsuccessfully trying to manage a hearings office of judges and attorneys, persistent and repeated management decisions which are misguided, make no sense and which they refuse to defend, cover-up of misconduct and wrongdoing, malfeasance, etc. I have provided a great deal of insight about all of this in recent posts on this blog, and many other similarly situated attorneys and ALJ's, (active and retired), have corroborated.

Your ageist remarks are uncalled for, offensive and wrong. Had you read recent posts on this blog you would learn I was only 53 when I was forced out the door 3 years ago! Hardly old age.

Instead of supporting SA advocates like me who have literally fought for the SA program years against backlash from ALJ's and certain top Agency officials who have resented the program since the day it rolled out in 1995, you sound like a jerk because you are a decision writer who believes they are doing SA work, not getting paid for it while some still are, and will never have a chance to be a SA. Do you not realize I am advocating for the future of the SA program as it originally began against backlash from recalcitrant management and top Agency officials. If successful, my advocacy would leave a SA position for you to strive to obtain in the near future, as opposed to a dead end GS-12 Attorney position going no where. The denigrating remarks you make about your fellow SA's tells a great deal about the type of person you are, i.e., an arrogant, narcissistic jerk who only cares about himself. As an employee representative of the Agency, you are disgusting.

I am not going to speak to your assertions about the job market, etc., other than to note the economy and law school graduate market you described for "old people like me" could not be further from the truth. I also had more than $30K in student loans when I graduated, etc. You are either a troll, an idiot or both.

Anonymous said...

312, I have been just watching this from the sidelines but you really went beyond the pale this time. You are the one that should be banned. I know your type. You work for the government yet think government workers are no good. You are insecure and jealous of those that came before you. You think you are so special that you are entitled to a SA position and you think the older attorneys should roll over and die. Let me tell you something little boy/girl, if it wasn't for older attorneys like me and 27 who fought tooth and nail for the SA program, you would have even less of a chance of getting a 13 than you do now. You must be a millennial or a troll or both like 27 said.

Anonymous said...

Yikes.. I'm just a disillusioned millennial working for hopelessly inefficient organization with no end in sight. Cheers

Anonymous said...

It often happens here. An interesting post about something – reducing backlogs by using Senior Attorneys and the subsequent comments shift from a practical suggestions that would be good for claimants and taxpayers to a discussion of who is making what and why someone is being hassled as an employee. Beginning to think the responsibility for this mess is not just SSA leadership, but a portion of employees who are just considered about history of pay grades ad nausem.

Anonymous said...

Take it with a grain of salt there are about 10k Odar employees and about 5 commenters here.

Anonymous said...


That is because ODAR employees very well know that if they comment on this blog or other social/public media sources, they will be the target of retaliation, and forever have a target on their back to be forced out the door by whatever it takes merit system principles be damned, as soon as possible.