Aug 9, 2016

Temporary ALJs?

     I understand that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency that oversees the process by which federal Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are appointed, has asked federal agencies to comment on a proposal for appointing some ALJs on a term limited basis of one to four years. This is supposed to help with workload surges.
     Social Security has long complained that OPM doesn't give it enough names to pick from when they're hiring ALJs. This proposal wouldn't do anything about that problem unless OPM changes the process by which they create the register of people from which agencies can select ALJs. If you do something about the hiring process, I don't see why you need temporary ALJs. Of course, the motivation behind this may have less to do with filling vacancies than with finding a way to force ALJs to toe the agency line. It fits in with the plan to have Appeals Council judges hold hearings. By the way, does anyone know when they plan to start that?


Anonymous said...

My understanding is that having AC judges hold hearings was tabled/scrapped

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't anticipate seeing this anytime soon. This will be the union's biggest and most meaningful fight in recent memory.

Not sure its fair to compare this to the AC hearings thing one is SSA one is OPM affecting all agencies that hire judges but its possible there could have been collusion.

Anonymous said...

SSA's initial plan to use AAJ's was an attempt to completely destroy the Senior Attorney Program, and to have judges who will toe the Agency line. Why do you think the position was described in such a manner that experienced ODAR Senior Attorneys could not apply, but ODAR HOD's with law degrees who have never adjudicated a case could. This was cover for a job specifically created for an ODAR HOD, (Garmon minion), in trouble for the same misconduct as he. After tons of backlash, there was an attempt to make an end run around this ODAR issue by advertising the AAJ job to only qualified DHS employees and assert they would hear Medicare cases, as well as SSA Disability and Non-Disability cases. Surprise - the AALJ saw through this end run and continued to cry foul. Thus, the AAJ program, the epitome of stupid on steroids, is scrapped.

Another attempt to make an end run around the Senior Attorney program is now being made with this effort for term limited ALJ's, and TPTB were somehow able to get OPM's support. COLLUSION with OPM? No doubt. Just look at the history here with the similar AAJ proposal that immediately preceded the term limited ALJ proposal, which is even more IDIOTIC.

The common denominator in the AAJ and now term limited ALJ proposals, is the Senior Attorney program, and obstinate refusal by a couple of very powerful top Agency officials to immediately reignite the SA program in the manner it was originally implemented in 1995 to reduce the million plus backlog of disability cases. What's baffling and defies well reasoned and experienced legal scholars and practitioners is why the obvious utter hatred exists toward the SA program, such that TPTB are willing to sacrifice claimants lives whose disability cases have been pending a ridiculous amount of time just to destroy the SA program - the one true successful program ODAR ever had.

There is something very wrong here.

Anonymous said...

Don't think these ideas are that related to the SA program. Term limited ALJs would hold hearing SA never could. They can deny SA can't. It would skirt independence, term ALJs would justifiably be worried about pay rates and it should not be implemented.

My impression was the AAJ thing was for... AAJs. Experienced SA could not apply because they are not AAJs. You have to be 14 to apply to be an AAJ, that's why HODs are eligible. Only HODs and Appeals Officers in the AC can apply for AAJ.

The SA program is viewed negatively be mgmt. because of its remand rate during its heyday, simple as that.

Anonymous said...


WRONG! While SA’s do not hold hearings or issue denial decisions, they do screen for potential O-T-R cases and pay those which will inevitably be paid anyway; confer with counsel on cases which can often be easily resolved and result in a favorable decision without a hearing; and write brief analyses for the ALJ’s on cases they screen which cannot be paid. SA’s used to be able to order CE’s, VE or ME interrogatories, medical records, etc. If the evidence ordered still did not support a favorable decision, the record was completely ready for the ALJ. All of this EXPEDITED THE PROCESS, AND SUBSTANTIALLY REDUCED THE BACKLOG. The cost of space to hold many more hearings was not necessary, nor was the increased money to pay contractors who record the hearings, or higher salaries required by ALJ’s or AAJ’s. SA work freed up time for ALJ’s and decision writers to concentrate on the more difficult cases.

The SA program has been utterly despised and hated by a certain group of managers ever since the program rolled out in 1995. Just ask SA 27, and other SA’s from that period who fought desperately to keep the SA program against backlash AND HARASSMENT today’s SA’s could not even begin to envision. So, management’s deep seeded hatred of the program goes back to its beginning. They have not yet fully succeeded in destroying the entire SA program outright in large part because it is the one truly successful program ODAR has ever had, and attorneys who represent claimants very well know this.

This business that the reason management despises the SA program is because they paid down the backlog, or had too many remands during the heyday of the program is WRONG AND NOT TRUE. Certain members of management have utterly despised the SA program from its inception in 1995, long before allegations could even be made that SA’s were paying down the backlog, or had too many remands. Thus, LIES!

As has been said in recent threads on this blog, the extent to which any SA’s may have paid some cases they may not have otherwise paid, or had a lot of remands was directly correlated to management’s emphasis on numbers, numbers, numbers and quality be damned, especially during the Astrue era, but this FAILED method of managing has, unfortunately, ramped up again, worse than ever. As a recent commenter stated yesterday, they (attorneys and decision writers) feel like a bunch of rats competing with one another over who can produce the most widgets. The ongoing failure of management to immediately reignite the SA program as it was implemented in 1995 to address the backlog has reached the point of malfeasance of public officials, and they must be held accountable.

Anonymous said...

Why would mgmt. hate something they created and if they hate it why would they have restarted it with the NAT?

This is a rat race. ODAR is a widget factory, legally sufficient decisions are our widgets. There are 1.1 million people waiting for a widget. They deserve a rat race mentality. You call it rat race, they call it rationally comparing a set of similarly situated employees and awarding top performs, you know like every company does. We need to go go go.

Anonymous said...


I said certain corrupt members of management hated the program. Moreover, there was NEVER a need for NAT in the fist place. The SA program already existed to the extent management had not already destroyed it.

Consider this: If your method of managing with numbers, numbers, numbers and widget mentality is so great, then why does the backlog continue to grow? Your method of management is a failed one going no where, but constantly spinning the wheel like a hamster in a cage. You are the problem.

Anonymous said...

It's not working because they're aren't enough widget makers in the factory and too many orders for widgets. What's your solution slow down? how does that help? The method hasn't failed writer productivity is up and remand rates are down, need more people primarily ALJs

Anonymous said...

1:31 et al

1:14 is absolutely correct about the antagonistic way that many line managers had towards the SA program or the STDP #7 initiative as it was originally known. There was so much animosity by field managers that TBTB at that time kept it a well guarded secret until it was rolled out. It was true cloak and dagger stuff, I am not kidding.

TBTB that came up with and implemented #7 did not have the animosity towards attorneys that was rampant out in the field. Dare I say that there was actually respect for attorneys at the top of OHA at one time. That was because there were many attorneys working on 15 and 16 (long timers will know what that means). Further, there was intense pressure to get cases adjudicated from congress. Back in the day there was regular interaction between the Hill and OCALJ, both on the clock and off. That is how you get things done. It is a lost art today, but I digress.

So #7 was implemented and there was a great black lash. Remember at the time (mid to late 1990s), there was no HOD only a HOM and that position capped out at 12 for most intents and purposes. There was a supervisor attorney who was a 13. The office structure was clearly legal in nature. Action #7 did extremely well, had a high agreement rate and a low remand rate, check you facts and you will find that this is true. However, all this did was serve to piss off non-attorney members of management and the ALJs. The ALJs were pissed because 1)they believed that they SAs were taking the easiest cases (not true) and 2) they were not stuck with mostly non-attorney writers who generally did a poor job (sorry, this is true).

So the SA program was phased out and the backlog rose again. Now there was more pressure to reduce the backlog, so Booze, Allen (who I always say has way too much Booze and not enough Allen) came up with HPI. The Agency wants to implement HPI and quickly because they want a non-attorney centric structure, but they have to satisfy all their stakeholders.

One major Union was pissed because its Adjudication Officer program had failed miserably and they were generally anti-attorney at the time (although things have improved since then). They got grade increases for their minions including a very limited number of permanent SA slots (those are the legacy SAs we now have.

The Agency got to stuff management positions with non-attorney DO people therefore fulfilling a long held dream to "suck up" Falls Church to Baltimore control, a dream that had been made public since the early 1990s.

The ALJs had a fit over HIP in general and Judge Stephen Wright was put in place to whip them into shape. Which he did, he always kept his eye on the ball, no one can take that away from him.

HPI came to pass and our backlog rose again.

Out came the SA signatory authority again. The backlog went down but skewered reviews made it look like the SA program had a low agreement rate, so signatory authority was taken away.

The backlog has now risen (anyone see a pattern here).

We now have non-attorneys running everything and there is still that old animosity, the clients be damned.

If any old timers are out there who can fill in more blanks or make any corrections, please do. I will will know your bona fides by what you post because I was there for all of it.

We are doomed.

Anonymous said...

No, it's not working because of incompetent managers like you. Your method of management is a failed one. You do not treat your employees with any human dignity. Everything about your management methodology is the direct opposite of what industrial psychologists and other experts advocate. You say you are all ears, but refuse to engage. You are obstinate, and persistently refuse suggestions from employees who have been with the Agency longer than you. Your refusal to get the SA program up and running immediately as it was originally implemented in 1995 to immediately reduce the backlog is just plain nuts. Perhaps when claimants with slam dunk favorable decisions pending in the million plus backlog begin to die, their deaths will be on your hands.

I noticed you mentioned you reward the highest producer's. Then how you explain how an Attorney and SA since 1995 who earned Performance Awards and/or QSI's over a period of 12 consecutive years is refused every promotional opportunity applied, and repeatedly watches much less qualified individuals who are favorites be promoted? How do you support this known ODAR management tactic of hiring less qualified favorites who were not high producer's or exceptional in your rat race method of management? Curious minds, especially those subjected to Garmon's reign as ROCALJ would like to know.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 11:24 is right about one thing, SA’s did review OTRs ETC and made a difference. If you have a million claimants waiting for a hearing, it is reasonable to assume about 300 thousand are either over 55 with unskilled work and severe impairments, or they meet or equal a listing if someone would read the OTR. So there is no excuse for this agency hubris. Those responsible must be soulless bureaucrats, lacking in temerity and intelligence. Reminds me of the John Lennon Song, “How do you sleep?”

Anonymous said...

Who was the person who cooked up the plan let AAJ's hear cases? Are they still tossing out idiotic ideas to SSA executives?

Anonymous said...

Believe the idea to send AAJs out across the country to do hearings belongs to Gerald Ray and Pat Jonas in OAO. The AC seems to be constantly thinking of ways to try to make themselves seem more "relevant" than they actually are. Ever since Barnhardt tried to eliminate the entire AC 10 years ago, there must be constant fear of extinction. They must be nervous as heck about another transition in power, which might be why they dreamed up the idea of pushing the AAJs into the hearings realm to try to help out with the hearing office backlogs. But the AC has its own backlog so, for a lot of reasons, it made no sense.