Nov 30, 2016

Hearing On Blahous And Reischauer Nominations

     The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing at 10:00 today on the nominations of Charles P. Blahous III, and Robert D. Reischauer to become members of the Social Security Advisory Board.
     Update: I should have said these are nominations to become members of the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees.

Nov 29, 2016

Order Of Succession To Become Acting Commissioner Of Social Security

     Assuming that Acting Commissioner Colvin submits her resignation at the end of President Obama's term of office as expected, here is the order of succession to become Acting Commissioner of Social Security:
  • Deputy Commissioner for Operations Nancy Berryhill
  • Deputy Commissioner for Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management Michelle King
  • Deputy Commissioner for Systems Robert Kloop
  • Regional Commissioner, Atlanta Rodney Taylor
  • Regional Commissioner, Dallas Sheila Everett
     Note that this order of succession could be altered by President Obama before he leaves office or by Donald Trump after he takes office.

Nov 28, 2016

Action Needed Before Inauguration Day

     From Michael Hiltzik writing in the Los Angeles Times:
The Department of Education and the Social Security Administration jointly are doing yeoman’s work in identifying about 387,000 severely disabled and insolvent Americans saddled with federal student debt they can’t repay and informing them that the law allows their loans to be forgiven. But one agency still needs to act to make sure these people aren’t hit with a tax penalty when that happens: the Internal Revenue Service.
Thus far the IRS has been silent, even though Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tried to poke it awake last month with a stern letter. Time may be getting short, because the election places the White House and both houses of Congress in the hands of a Republican Party that often has displayed disdain for the plight of people on disability.
 The affected persons have been judged to be totally and permanently disabled and to have annual income below the federal poverty level for a family of two, or less than about $16,000. About 80% of those in this category of disability had zero earnings in 2014, according to the Social Security Administration; of the 16% who report any earnings at all, the average is about $8,000. Their median net worth is $200 — and that might even be an overstatement. But their average student loan balance is $18,000. About half already are in default on their loans, the Education Department says. Under federal law, as disabled and insolvent borrowers they’re eligible to have their federal student loans zeroed out.
But few of the eligible borrowers have been taking advantage of the law. Some may have been dissuaded by the Education Department’s demand for extensive documentation of their medical condition. Some may not even have known about the law.
In April, the Education Department and Social Security Administration got proactive by matching up their databases to identify permanently disabled borrowers, whose medical records are kept by the latter agency. Eligible borrowers were to get a letter explaining their eligibility for loan forgiveness and a streamlined application form. ...
The problem is that under federal tax rules, the balance on forgiven debt can count as income — and the Education Department’s discharge of a loan triggers automatic notification to the IRS....
Even if the recipient owes no taxes — and many of them have virtually no taxable income — they may end up hearing from IRS collection agents or even facing an audit. ...
Warren tried to goad the IRS into issuing a no-action guideline for these borrowers — a blanket rule that tax on student loan forgiveness for the severely disabled should be presumed to be waived. That would avert unnecessary pain for the borrowers and the government agencies alike, she observed.
     By the way, on September 15, 2014, I called on Social Security and the Department of Education to do a database match and automatically cancel the federal student debt for as many of the disabled as possible. A database match program to do exactly what I called for was announced on April 12, 2016. I'd like to think I deserve credit for coming up with this idea but who knows. It should have been obvious to Social Security and the Department of Education without anyone from the outside suggesting it. I don't know why they took so long to do it.

Nov 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 23, 2016

SSA Wants To Get Program Uniformity Rules Finalized Before Change Of Administration

     I'm surprised that this is being done so late. Typically a new President suspends not just ongoing regulatory actions but new rules that have been finalized but which have not yet gone into effect. Since Social Security has to give at least 30 days notice before a final rule goes into effect, OMB has little time to act on this proposal.
     By the way, if you were going to rush something through, why wouldn't you rush through the proposal to prevent claimants who need a representative payee from buying guns?

Nov 22, 2016

Man Arrested After Punching Hole In Wall At Social Security Office

     From WPBN/WGTU in Michigan:
A 32-year-old Ludington man was arrested after allegedly punching a hole in the wall at the Social Security Office. ...
According to the Mason County Sheriff's Office, a man reportedly became upset and loud inside the office over what he felt was unfair treatment. The man was then asked to leave when deputies say he allegedly punched the wall with his fist, causing damage.

Nov 21, 2016

An Addition To Trump's Social Security Transition Team

     From the Washington Examiner:
An announcement from President-elect Trump's transition team hints that the incoming administration may be more open to changes in Social Security than the Republican suggested on the campaign trail, if personnel is any guide.
The transition team announced Monday that former Dallas mayor and former Texas Senate candidate Tom Leppert would be part of the "landing team" tasked with preparing the Trump administration to take over control of the Social Security Administration.
Leppert has endorsed raising the retirement age and partially privatizing Social Security, the kinds of changes that Trump has said would reduce the old-age program to shreds.
    The Washington Examiner is a very right wing publication which burns with true fire for the dream of weakening Social Security before killing it. I don't think there's even the smallest chance that Trump would actually attempt such a thing much less that they would succeed. I don't think that Democrats will be that lucky. However, I think we have to put Leppert's name down as a contender for the position of Commissioner of Social Security. I can't imagine why he would have even wanted to be on the Social Security transition team if he wasn't interested in the job of Commissioner.

Number Of Social Security Disability Recipients Declining

Nov 18, 2016

Many To Leave Social Security Because Of Change Of Administration?

    There are reports on the ALJ Discussion Forum that Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin told agency employees in an in-house television broadcast that she and many other unnamed officials will be leaving their jobs at Social Security at the time of the inauguration. There is nothing surprising about Colvin leaving. That was widely expected.  However, it is surprising that many others would choose to leave Social Security because of the change of administration. That is not at all what has happened in the past.
    The same source contains a report that agency employees have been told to expect that appropriations problems will slow down the hiring of Administrative Law Judges. The slowdown in hiring is inevitable given the appropriations problem. Backlogs are going to grow rapidly over the next four or five months, at least. No one knows what to expect beyond that.

Nov 17, 2016

Getting A Little Feisty

     From the testimony of  Robert Klopp, Deputy Commissioner of Systems and Chief Information Officer, Social Security Administration yesterday to the Subcommittee on Information Technology, House Committee on Oversight and Information Technology:
... In our last hearing, some Members voiced concerns about a lack of leadership on cybersecurity at the agency. I appreciate this concern, but I also think we need to be careful about assuming that any security weakness is the result of bad management. If the fact that there are vulnerabilities in our IT infrastructure reflects a lack of leadership, then I accept the responsibility for the lack of leadership. If the criteria is that, if DHS [Department of Homeland Security] finds anything wrong, this reflects a lack of leadership, then I accept the responsibility. But this also means that every agency that has a vulnerability, exploited or not, has a leadership issue - and that means every agency, not just SSA. ...
The SSA can shift funding from our IT budget for cyber, but soaking up any savings by spending it on cyber does not fund continuous improvement. It does not fund IT modernization. The idea that the SSA, or any agency, can do more in cyber while simultaneously rebuilding our IT infrastructure is no less a fantasy than the idea that the country can modernize any other infrastucture - our roads, our dams, our electric grid, our military - without an investment.
My testimony includes a request to modernize IT and to fund improvements in cyber defenses. Wishing for better IT from cost cutting will not help. Wishing for cost-cuts with no investment will not help. Passing legislation without providing funding is not enough. ...

Nov 14, 2016

I Don't Know

     People keep asking me what's going to happen at Social Security with Donald Trump as President. For the most part, I don't know. I'm pretty sure that the people on Trump's Social Security transition team have little idea. It would be too early in any transition and there are ample signs that this will be a more disorganized transition than usual.Much may depend upon Trump's pick for Social Security Commissioner but that may not come for six months or more and it may not matter that much anyway. In most administrations, the Social Security Commissioner seems mostly to be told to not make waves.
     The one thing that people worry about the most -- that Trump would try to privatize Social Security -- is out of the question. He's signaled that he opposes that. Few Congressional Republicans would have the heart for such a fight. Even Donald Trump can recognize that this is a fight he would lose badly. I wish he would try but he won't.
     While there are many, many frightening things that could happen at Social Security in a year or two or four, the only immediate threat is to the agency's operating budget. We're on a continuing resolution now which runs out in December, if I remember correctly. I expect that will get rolled over until the Spring. Over the past six years the House GOP has been demanding greater and greater cuts for all agencies, including Social Security, and damn the consequences. However, it's been noticeable in the past that the Congressional GOP has always seemed far more interested in budget austerity when there was a Democratic President than when there was a Republican President, not that Social Security fared well under President George W. Bush. We are at the point that the news media can already report on horrendous backlogs at Social Security, if they choose to. Do Republicans want to risk bad media coverage on this? Do they even recognize or care about that risk when they've just been able to elect a President who's been accused of, among other things, sexually abusing more than a dozen women?

Nov 12, 2016

Transition Team For Social Security?

     I'm not familiar with but they're reporting that Mike Korbey, former senior advisor to the principal deputy commissioner at the Social Security Administration in George W. Bush’s administration; former Reagan Social Security Commissioner Dorcas Hardy; former Social Security Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll; and former Social Security General Counsel David Black have been appointed to Trump's transition team for the Social Security Administration. Korbey and Hardy have a history of supporting privatization of Social Security, although I strongly doubt that any such plan will be forthcoming in a Trump administration. I can say that O'Carroll was no fan of Social Security disability claimants when he was at Social Security. I'm not familiar with Black.

Nov 11, 2016

Nov 10, 2016

My Theory

     For at least the last four years attorneys who represent Social Security disability claimants have been asking each other why there has been little news media coverage of the human costs of the unprecedented backlogs of Social Security disability claims and the general harshness in adjudicating these claims. Large numbers of people are dying while waiting for action on their claims. Many disability claims are wrongly denied, particularly claims based upon mental illness. After all, smaller backlogs and less harsh policies had received extensive media coverage in years past. Why not now?
     My theory on why there has been so little coverage is that the think tanks and advocacy groups based in D.C. who ought to be initiating the media coverage were instead squelching it because they were afraid that a Democratic president would be blamed even though the fault, at least for the backlogs, clearly lies with the Republicans in Congress who have failed to give the Social Security Administration an adequate appropriation.
     If my theory is correct, expect lots of media attention next year to the backlogs. We could have used the attention to these problems over the last four years.

Nov 9, 2016

The Greatest Of All Tools

     I am reminded that a college friend once told me that the hammer is the greatest of all tools because if you can't fix it with a hammer by the time you're done with it, it can't be fixed.

Nov 8, 2016

ODAR Workload And Performance Summary -- FY 2016 -- Rapid Deterioration In Service And SSA Doesn't Care

     This was obtained from Social Security by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in their newsletter (which isn't available online). Click on the image to view it full size.
     Note that they were getting in an average of 2,798 new cases per workday in fiscal year 2016 but only disposing of 2,545 cases per day. That's a 9% shortfall. The backlog increased by 61,107 cases over the course of the fiscal year. Those are real people, most of whom will ultimately be found disabled.
     Note that Senior Attorney dispositions totaled only 1,187 cases over the entire fiscal year. Social Security, you can pretend to credulous members of Congress that you care about the backlogs but don't try telling that to me. It's simple. If you care about the backlogs, you take the brakes off and increase the number of Senior Attorney decisions dramatically. If you're not willing to do that, you just don't care about the backlogs. Senior Attorney decisions are an excellent way of doing something quickly about the backlogs. They don't ultimately do anything other than quickly approve cases that would ultimately be approved anyway.

Nov 7, 2016

SSA Doesn't Make News Just Before An Election So Here's An Interesting Picture

NC Museum Of Art Park 11/6/16

Nov 2, 2016

RCALJ Oliver Garmon In The News Again

     An Atlanta television station is running a piece on employment discrimination at Social Security, featuring Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge Oliver Garmon.