Aug 31, 2017

Two Congressional Hearing

     The House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled two hearings for Wednesday, September 6. One definitely has to do with Social Security. The other may touch on Social Security. 
     First, at 10:00, the Social Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on disability determination at Social Security. The announcement focuses on how long it takes for the agency to process cases. The Subcommittee wants to know what plan the agency has for doing something about the backlogs. That's rich since the overwhelming cause of the backlogs is inadequate administrative funding. That's controlled by Congress. Of lesser importance is the agency's reluctance to allow senior attorneys to approve some very strong disability claims after a request for hearing is filed. This reluctance also seems to be related to the atmosphere created by Republicans in Congress who seem to regard disability claims and claimants with suspicion if not hostility.
     At 2:00 the Human Resources Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Missing from the Labor Force: Examining Declining Employment among Working-Age Men. I haven't been able to find a full announcement on this hearing. In the past, Republicans have favored the argument that the declining employment to people going on Social Security disability benefits. However, recent research makes that argument look very weak.

Aug 30, 2017

Acting Commissioner's Broadcast E-Mail



From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 3:40 PM
Subject: Hurricane Harvey Update

A Message to All SSA and DDS Employees

Subject: Hurricane Harvey Update


Most of you know that the Dallas region is still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Harvey.   Harvey is now affecting both Texas and Louisiana.

Forecasters expect strong winds, heavy rain, flooding, and power outages to continue in both states.

Again, all of our SSA and DDS employees are safe and accounted for.  Offices in the Houston area will remain closed this week.  We are assessing damages to some of our local offices.

I’ve heard your concerns for all those impacted by this natural disaster, and especially for our claimants who are in harm’s way.  I offer the following information:

  • How you can help—we are awaiting word from the Office of Personnel Management about a special solicitation for Hurricane Harvey relief.  We will provide that information as soon as we have it.
  • September 1 payments—we are working closely with the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Department of Treasury, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure scheduled payments arrive on time.  We will provide additional information regarding emergency payments soon.

Please keep your colleagues and their families who are struggling in your thoughts and prayers.

Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Exits From The Social Security Disability Rolls

     Lakshmi K. Raut has written a research piece for the Social Security Bulletin, the agency's scholarly publication, on exits from the disability rolls. Judge for yourself but I don't see any policy implications. Here are a few charts from the study (the conversion he's talking about here is conversion to retirement benefits at full retirement age):
Cumulative probability of DI program exit, by reason and duration on the rolls

Cumulative probability of DI program exit because of recovery or death over the first 9 years on the rolls, by age at entitlement
Cumulative probability of DI program exit because of recovery or death over the first 9 years on the rolls, by selected disability type and age at entitlement

Aug 29, 2017

Oops!

     Based on an Emergency Message that the Social Security Administration has sent out to its staff, it looks as if between September 2016 and March 2017 the agency failed to notify some or all beneficiaries in the following situations: 
  • Beneficiary is no longer disabled (cessation).
  • Beneficiary is no longer entitled to disability benefits or payments on the current application (adverse reopening).
  • Beneficiary received erroneous payments after a decision of denial (overpayment).  
  • Social Security changes the onset date to a later date. 
  • Social Security changes the cessation date to an earlier date.
     Failure to send notice means that the beneficiaries had no idea why their benefits had stopped or that they could appeal.
     The Emergency Message tells Social Security staff that  "If the beneficiary alleges he or she did not receive a notice during the relevant period, technicians should take the allegations seriously, carefully review the case and provide due process as required by existing regulations and agency policy."
     The Emergency Message says nothing about the agency sending belated notices to the beneficiaries affected. Maybe, they're going to send out the notices. They certainly should.
     By the way, I saw instances of this happening. I thought it was isolated errors rather than a systems problems. I expect that many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of claimants were affected.

Another In The Washington Post Series

     There's another in the series of Washington Post articles about Social Security disability. It repeats many of the same themes we've come to expect from the Post:
  • Disability recipients can go back to work if they really want to -- but they mostly don't want to because they don't want to lose their disability benefits.
  • There's a lot of disability in rural areas because there aren't many jobs in rural areas, meaning that disability benefits are little more than disguised unemployment benefits.
  • Disability is mostly due to things like mental illness which people can overcome if they really want.
  • Drugs and alcohol are a major factor in disability.
     The article is misleading. It presents mental illness as if it were no more than feeling a bit anxious, depressed and discouraged. Who among us doesn't feel that way sometimes? I know nothing about this woman's case but I know you don't get on Social Security disability due to the sort of mild psychiatric symptoms discussed in this article.
     I also know that in any case, mental illness is but a fraction of the disability picture. If you wanted a more typical disability recipient, you'd have an older man or woman with physical health problems that will only get worse with time but a case like that wouldn't display what the Post wants to display.
     The unstated message of this series is that Social Security ought to approve fewer people for Social Security disability and should be required to take a more coercive approach to getting disability recipients back to work. I don't think that's justified. It's already incredibly difficult to get on Social Security disability benefits. No further effort to get people back to work will be effective because the vast majority of disability recipients are far too sick to work and don't get any better over time.

Change In Policy On Voluntary Remands After Allowance Of Subsequent Claim

    From Transmittal I-1-90 explaining a change to HALLEX §I-1-10:
... [E]xcept in unusual circumstances, the AC {Appeals Council] will not stipulate to affirm a subsequent allowance when considering whether to voluntarily remand a pending court case in a prior claim because such a stipulation would limit the AC's ability to correct other possible issues in the subsequent claim(s), such as unreported earnings. ...
     I'm not going to bother trying to explain this. If you do much federal court work on Social Security appeals, you understand its significance. If you don't, you probably don't care.
     I will say that if the agency wanted to do so it would be easy to draft a stipulation to affirm a subsequent allowance while leaving open a narrow window for unexpected issues such as unreported earnings. I don't think the agency would have trouble getting plaintiff's attorneys to agree to properly drafted language. I think this is more likely a reflection of increased contentiousness at Social Security. It will result in the agency having to defend weaker decisions in federal court. I don't think that's a good idea for Social Security.

Aug 28, 2017

Acting Commissioner's Message On Harvey



From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Monday, August 28, 2017 10:22 AM
Subject: Our Thoughts Are With Texas

A Message to All SSA and DDS Employees

Subject: Our Thoughts Are With Texas

As we experienced over the last few days the absolute devastation of Hurricane Harvey, we are pleased to report that all SSA and DDS employees in Texas and Louisiana are safe and accounted for, though many sustained property damage and have evacuated from their homes.

Please keep those affected by the flooding in your thoughts and prayers as this storm continues.  We will provide additional information as it emerges.

Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Proposed Changes To Musculoskeletal Listing

     The Social Security Administration has asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is part of the White House, to approve proposed changes to its listings on musculoskeletal disorders. If OMB approves the proposal, it will be published in the Federal Register and the public will be allowed to comment on the proposal. Social Security must then consider the comments before sending proposed final regulations back to OMB for final approval. 
     This is the first regulatory proposal from Social Security since Donald Trump became President.

Declining Labor Force Participation Not Caused By Social Security Disability Benefits

     From Kathy Ruffing at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:
Labor-force participation — the share of adults 16 and older who are working or looking for work — peaked at just over 67 percent in 1996-2000 and has fallen since then. Some analysts observe that the number of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries grew steeply after 2000, and assume the two trends are related. But evidence for that connection is weak. ...

Rising SSDI receipt and falling labor-force participation aren’t affecting the same age groups. SSDI receipt has grown modestly among older people, especially older women (see graph) — but so has their labor-force participation, as older workers postpone retirement. The drop in labor-market activity is concentrated at younger ages, particularly men, where SSDI receipt has not risen.
      I'd call that chart a definitive answer to the question.

Aug 27, 2017

Daugherty Sentenced To Four Years

     From the Washington Post:
A former administrative law judge has been sentenced to four years in prison for taking bribes from a Kentucky lawyer in a $600 million Social Security fraud case. 
Eighty-one-year-old David B. Daugherty of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, pleaded guilty in May to taking more than $600,000 in bribes in cases involving clients of Eric C. Conn, who is now a fugitive and was sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison. ... 

SSA Office Space Declining

     From a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO):
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has reduced its physical footprint and expanded delivery of services remotely, including online. SSA reduced the total square footage of its facilities by about 1.4 million square feet (or about 5 percent) from fiscal years 2012 to 2016, according to GAO's analysis, by applying new standards for determining the size of offices and consolidating facilities. ... SSA has also expanded the services it offers remotely, and online use has increased for certain services such as disability and retirement applications. Despite this increase, in-person contacts at field offices have not changed substantially, with about the same number in fiscal year 2016 as in fiscal year 2007 (approximately 43 million). This may be due to growing demand for services as well as certain services not yet being fully available online. ...
SSA is taking steps to make remote services easier to use, for example by adding new features to its website and offering alternate approaches for accessing services, but does not consistently evaluate them, which could limit its ability to shift more services online and further reconfigure its footprint. For example, SSA has added features allowing online customers to interact directly with SSA staff. However, SSA does not track staff follow-ups to deal with any errors in online benefit applications in order to improve them, as called for by federal internal control standards. To enhance access to remote services, SSA has introduced alternate service approaches such as videoconferencing in third-party sites; however, it does not have performance goals for these approaches. GAO has previously identified performance goals as a best practice, which may help agencies improve their customer service. ...

Aug 26, 2017

No Survivor Benefits For Children Conceived 11 Years After Death Of Wage Earner

      From MacNeil v. Berryhill (CA2) decided on August 24, 2017:
... Sharon MacNeil (“MacNeil”) brought suit ... challenging a decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration that her children—twins conceived via in vitro fertilization eleven years after her husband died—were ineligible for survivors’ insurance benefits. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Sharpe, J.) affirmed the agency’s decision, concluding that under the applicable provisions of New York’s Estates, Powers and Trusts Law (“EPTL”) the children were not entitled to inherit under New York state intestacy law, and so were not children of the deceased wage earner within the meaning of the relevant Social Security Act provisions. We agree and accordingly AFFIRM the district court’s judgment. ...

Aug 25, 2017

I Wish I Could Help

     The conclusion of a lengthy message sent to me today by a stranger using the contact form on this blog:
... I'm sending this to you because you are the commissioner I'm hoping that you will get back with me my records are so messed up and I've been overcharged and I do not believe this is so security's way of doing business and I don't think you'll agree with that either ...
     I get these sorts of messages fairly often. I wish these folks well but I don't respond because I'm not who they think I am.

Huge Information Technology Conracts

     From Fed Scoop:
The Social Security Administration tapped three companies to handle its information technology services Aug. 21, awarding the trio a combined $7.8 billion contract.
The agency — which projects it will have to process benefits for an additional 70 million Baby Boomers over the next decade — selected Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and CGI Federal Inc. to handle its IT operations. ...
The indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract may last up to 10 years —it has four two-year options to extend — and will cover software and web lifecycle opportunities, database administration, software engineering and management support, and systems administration and security support.
Northrop Grumman took the lion’s share of the contract’s value, netting a $3 billion award in potential task orders, followed by CGI Federal’s $2.4 billion and Lockheed Martin’s $2.3 billion, if all options are exercised.

Aug 24, 2017

Drop What You're Doing If You Want To Become An ALJ

     The registry to apply to become a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is now open. I don't know how they're going to do it this time but on previous occasions the registry stayed open for only a few days. It may be years before the registry opens again.

Hearing Backlog Is At Record Level

     From the San Francisco Chronicle:
People who have applied for Social Security Disability Insurance and been turned down twice are having to wait a record number of days to get a hearing in front of a judge and receive a decision.
The average wait time is 596 days or 19½ months, up from 545 days in September and only 353 days in 2012. The backlog of cases pending a hearing stands at about 1.1 million, up from 700,000 in 2010. ...
News reports about disability insurance fraud — such as a 2013 episode of “60 Minutes” — make it seem like benefits are easy to get. President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has suggested that some recipients aren’t really disabled and the government could save billions by pushing them back into the workforce.
In reality, getting disability benefits can be arduous, and only about 37 percent of former workers who apply end up getting them. ...
The percentage of people who apply for a hearing and win has fallen to 46 percent from 64 percent six years ago ...

Aug 23, 2017

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True ...

     From the Detroit Free Press:
Here's some sorry news this summer: There's no secret cash stash out there to pay your utility bills or your old outstanding debts with the state.
Consumers are getting swept into some scams across the country that promise a way to use special bank routing numbers supposedly from the U.S. government to cover their bills. 
One website notes: "Pay all bills now with your no-longer secret Social Security Trust Account." ...
By re-examining the account numbers being used to pay bills, staff members noticed that individuals had been trying to pay old state debts by using routing numbers from two U.S. Department of Treasury bureaus — the financial management service and the bureau of public debt. ... 
Leix said the strategy seems to be one promoted by tax protest groups and others. ...
"It just won't work," Leix said. "It's just not a valid method of payment for any outstanding debt."  ...
People are being told that your Social Security number is all that you need to unlock payment from a “corporate account” that was established by the government in your name. ...

Aug 22, 2017

I'm Not Joking

     Social Security is in the pilot phase of developing DeDoop, a program that is supposed to remove duplicative medical records from the electronic files of Social Security disability claimants.

Aug 21, 2017

ODAR Workload And Performance Summary

     This was obtained from the Social Security Administration by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in its newsletter, which is not available online.
Click on image to view full size

Aug 20, 2017

Be Careful What You Ask For

     I heard recently from an attorney who requested some medical records on his client from a hospital. The hospital sent the attorney a good deal more than he requested but it was all on his client. It came to 12,000 pages. If we didn't have regulations requiring that EVERTHING be submitted, the attorney would have culled out the records than hadn't been requested, records that weren't material to the determination of disability such as nurses notes, medication records, endless lab tests, etc, but he can't do that now. He's submitting the whole thing.

Aug 19, 2017

The Most Common Social Security Fraud

     From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
In May 2012, the Social Security Administration (SSA) introduced my Social Security — an Internet services portal that allows individuals to create a personal online account to access their own information. In January 2013, the Agency enhanced my Social Security to allow individuals to change their direct deposit bank information. Shortly after SSA made this change, the Agency and the Office of the Inspector General began receiving fraud allegations related to unauthorized direct deposit changes....
Based on our random samples, we estimated that $10.9 million in benefit payments for about 7,200 beneficiaries was misdirected in CYs [Calendar Years] 2014 through 2016. ...
We also estimated SSA prevented about $14.1 million in benefits from being misrouted from about 11,900 beneficiaries whose direct deposit bank account was changed without their authorization.
Comparing our analysis of the CY 2014 through 2016 data the Agency provided to our prior review of CY 2013 data showed that the amount of benefits misdirected through my Social Security decreased. Also, we made recommendations to SSA related to verifying the identities of my Social Security users in our September 2016 report. As a result, we are not making any additional recommendations for corrective action at this time. ...

Aug 18, 2017

The Evil OHO

     Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will soon change its name to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). People will pronounce OHO as Oh-Ho. However, that is the same pronunciation as the Spanish word for eye, ojo. A friend who knows a good deal about these things tells me that the Spanish word ojo also has the connotation of evil eye in Mexican and Central American culture. There are many legal immigrants in the United States from Mexico and Central America who take the concept of the evil eye seriously. We'd better not confuse them by casually referring to Oh-Ho.

Aug 17, 2017

Hard Time

     From the Lexington, KY Herald Leader:
A Pikeville psychologist tried to hang himself after he was convicted of conspiring with disability attorney Eric C. Conn to defraud the Social Security Administration of millions of dollars, according to a court record.
A federal prosecutor cited the unsuccessful suicide attempt in arguing that Alfred Bradley Adkins should not be released on bond pending sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves turned down Adkins’ request to be released. ...
Adkins was charged with signing false mental-impairment evaluations for Conn to use in claims.
A jury convicted Adkins on June 12 of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and making a false statement in a record submitted to Social Security.
Reeves ordered Adkins taken into custody after the verdict.
About an hour later, the U.S. Marshals Service notified Reeves that Adkins had tried to hang himself in a holding cell at the federal courthouse in Lexington, according to a court document. The document didn’t provide any additional details.
Reeves said in an order that although Adkins’ attempt was unsuccessful, it “refutes his claims of stability and the assertions that Adkins is not a danger to himself or to others, or that he would not flee if given the opportunity.” ...
Adkins faces up to 65 years in prison, according to a motion by Dustin M. Davis, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. ...

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article167332772.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article167332772.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article167332772.html#storylink=cpyAdkins faces up to 65 years in prison, according to a motion by Dustin M. Davis, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/state/article167332772.html#storylink=cpy

Aug 16, 2017

Why Can't Social Security Get Adequate Administrative Funding?

     Max Richtman of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare wonders why the Sorcial Security Administration can't get an adequate operating budget. He thinks it might have something to do with the fact that Republicans still can't reconcile themselves to the very existence of Social Security.

Aug 15, 2017

1.7% COLA?

     There's always great interest in Social Security's annual cost of living adjustment. We won't know the actual 2018 number until October but it's looking like it will be about 1.7%.

Aug 14, 2017

Happy Birthday!

     President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935.

Aug 13, 2017

New Remand Procedure

     From HALLEX, the manual for Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) (and no, the name hasn't changed yet):
I-2-5-12 Remand for Revised Determination Last Update: 8/3/17 (Transmittal I-2-211)  
A.When to Remand for a Revised Determination After a claimant files a request for hearing but before an administrative law judge (ALJ) holds a hearing, an ALJ may, under certain circumstances, remand a case to the Disability Determination Services or other component that issued the determination. See 20 CFR 404.948(c) and 416.1448(c). An ALJ may remand for a revised determination on his or her own initiative, or at the request of a claimant. An ALJ will only remand a case for a revised determination if there is reason to believe the revised determination would be fully favorable to the claimant. While the regulatory language is quite broad, the ALJ will only consider this requirement met if the ALJ is reasonably certain a revised fully favorable determination will be issued on remand. For example, the ALJ may receive new and material evidence that appears to change the outcome, or a change in the law permits a favorable determination. ...

Aug 12, 2017

New Prehearing Reviews

     From HALLEX, the manual of Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) whose name will be changed to OHO this fall:
I-2-5-10. Prehearing Case Review by Other Component Last Update: 8/3/17 (Transmittal I-2-211) 
A.General After a claimant files a request for hearing but before an administrative law judge (ALJ) holds a hearing, an ALJ may, under the circumstances outlined in subsection B below, forward a claim for a prehearing case review to the Disability Determination Services or other component that issued the determination the claimant is appealing. On receipt of the claim(s), the receiving component will decide whether to revise the determination based on a preponderance of the evidence. See 20 CFR 404.941 and 416.1441. Under these procedures, the Social Security Administration may only issue a revised determination if it is fully or partially favorable to the claimant. NOTE: While a prehearing case review is pending, the ALJ retains jurisdiction of the claim and will not dismiss the request for hearing. 
B.When an ALJ May Refer a Case for Prehearing Case Review As set forth in 20 CFR 404.941 and 416.1441, an ALJ may refer a case for a prehearing case review if: Additional evidence is submitted; There is an indication that additional evidence is available; There is a change in the law or regulation; or There is an error in the file or some other indication that the prior determination may be revised. In screening cases for the regulatory criteria, the ALJ will only refer cases for a prehearing case review in which application of the criteria may result in a fully or partially favorable decision. 

Aug 11, 2017

One Writer Describes What It Feels Like To Be Disabled

     From Robert Fowler writing for the Washington Post:
... A few weeks after my stroke, when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to work, my wife drove me to the Social Security office to apply for benefits. After stacks of paperwork, it took several months before my first trip to the doctor, for a psychiatric exam, where they asked me to count to 100 by sevens. It should have been simple, but about halfway through, I stumbled, and felt humiliated. More questions passed, and more confusion. A very thorough physical exam came next. And then there was a very thorough check of our finances, including the number of cars and bank accounts we have. Months on, I still haven’t received a single check. Without help from family, I would be homeless, despite over forty years in the work force. To them, I am forever grateful, but also deeply ashamed. 

In a world where we’re all expected to carry our own weight, I fully understand why my fellow taxpayers don’t want to carry mine. But what I don’t understand is that the lady who helped me with the paperwork at the Social Security office told me disability was not charity. What I am to get out is based on what I put in. She told me to stop crying because it is money I have earned. So In a world where we’re all expected to carry our own weight, I fully understand why my fellow taxpayers don’t want to carry mine. But what I don’t understand is that the lady who helped me with the paperwork at the Social Security office told me disability was not charity. What I am to get out is based on what I put in. She told me to stop crying because it is money I have earned. So why do I feel so much shame? 

I was raised with the feeling that public services should be kept to an absolute minimum, and that people who received government assistance have no class, and should have taken better care of themselves. Three weeks after my stroke, my wife of 41 years lost her job, too. She was upset due to my prognosis, and spent so much of her time taking care of me (making sure, for example, that I could turn off the burners after cooking, and make it around the house on my own) that it was hard for her to make it to work. Without her job, we had to apply for food stamps. When we first received them, I was so humiliated I wouldn’t even go to the store with her. I was afraid and demoralized. 

I would gladly work, just to hold my head up again. And I believe most folks like me would prefer a hand up to a handout. It’s just that a hand up is much harder to come by in circumstances like these. I didn’t grow up poor, and I didn’t intend to become poor: Somehow, it just happened. The poor are rarely in a position to defend themselves. I see that now, and I refuse to judge a panhandler these days. I just thank God I’m not in his shoes yet, if he has any.

Aug 10, 2017

A Message From The Commissioner

Date: August 8, 2017 Refer To: S7A-4

To: Senior Staff

From: Nancy A. Berryhill /s/
Acting Commissioner 

Subject: Organizational Realignment - INFORMATION

I continue to identify opportunities to improve efficiency and public service by unifying efforts and advancing our ability to make data-driven decisions.

Today, I am announcing the establishment of a Deputy Commissioner-level organization – the Office of Analytics, Review, and Oversight (OARO) – which will be implemented October 1, 2017. The six offices involved that will form this organization are as follows:

From the Office of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management:
 • Office of Anti-Fraud Programs; 
 • Office of Business Improvement;
• Office of Quality Review; and
• Audit Liaison Staff 

From the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review:
• Office of Appellate Operations;

From the Office of the Commissioner:
 • Analytics Center of Excellence

Integration of these organizations with complementary missions provides an opportunity to mature our anti-fraud efforts, institutionalize and foster data analysis in our programs, improve coordination to provide oversight of the disability adjudication system, and communicate a unified message within and outside the agency. This restructuring presents an opportunity to maximize our resources and better organize efforts to explore and develop the future of analyses and oversight. I said in my first communication January 23rd that we will be mission focused and mission driven. The establishment of this organization further demonstrates a commitment to maximizing our performance and employee engagement while enhancing and improving agency policies and processes so that we provide quality public service.

Pat Jonas will be Deputy Commissioner, OARO and Amy Thompson will serve as Acting Assistant Deputy Commissioner, OARO. 

In addition to this new organization structure, the Office of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management will be the Office of Budget, Finance, and Management (OBFM). The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will be the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). 

Please join me in congratulating our colleagues on their new assignment. I am sure I can count on you to give them your full cooperation as they begin the task of integration and moving forward.

Aug 9, 2017

ODAR To Become OHO

     I am hearing that Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will be changing its name to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). As part of this process, the Appeals Council will go to a newly created Office, where it will undoubtedly bicker with OHO. 
     By the way, I'm old enough to remember when what is now ODAR was the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA).

Aug 8, 2017

Andrus Sentenced

     From the Associated Press:
A former chief regional Social Security judge [actually Hearing Office Chief Judge] has been sentenced to prison for scheming to retaliate against an employee who blew the whistle on alleged fraud by a Kentucky lawyer. 

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Charlie Paul Andrus was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison. 

Andrus pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with disability lawyer Eric Conn to interfere with a person's employment. Conn — at the center of a nearly $600 million Social Security fraud case — disappeared this past June. ... 

Aug 7, 2017

ALJ Register Opening

     From Government Executive:
... The Office of Personnel Management announced this week that it planned to open up applications for administrative law judges throughout government, aiming to replenish a register it maintains for the positions. ... 
SSA cannot resolve the problem simply by adding more ALJs, however, according to Association of Administrative Law Judges President Marilyn Zahm. While SSA must hire 100 judges each year just to keep pace with attrition, Zahm said even an influx above that level would not sufficiently drive down the backlog. 
A shortage of support staff, such as clerks and attorneys, is the driving force behind the growing number of outstanding claims. SSA imposed a hiring freeze in May 2016 ahead of fears that its budget would continue to shrink. It remained in place after President Trump issued a governmentwide moratorium upon taking office. While the agency received authority from OPM to bring on 200 support staff while Trump’s freeze was in place, Zahm said that was a “drop in the bucket” that barely kept pace with the departures taking place across SSA’s 166 hearing offices. SSA lifted the freeze in May, but is hiring on a limited basis for direct service positions only. ...

Aug 6, 2017

Early Out Offered

     From Government Executive:
The Social Security Administration is opening up separation incentives to nearly every job category across its workforce, with about one in four employees eligible to leave. 
The largest independent federal agency announced the early retirement offer in a June memorandum obtained by Government Executive. All employees who wish to take advantage must separate by Sept. 1. Only the agency’s 1,600 administrative law judges are not eligible to accept the offer. 
Employees must have 20 years experience and be at least 50 years old, or have 25 years of service and be any age, to qualify under the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. ...

Aug 5, 2017

Can Someone Translate This Into English?

     From FCW:
The Social Security Administration is moving forward with back-end tech and records systems to support the agency's long-term plan to modernize and improve customer service. 
As SSA continues to invest in its online help and customer services, the Customer Engagement Tools record system will collect and store electronic communications between SSA personnel and beneficiaries with "my Social Security" accounts. 
The database, which will be developed in-house, will also allow SSA's customer-facing systems quick access to user data. 
A Social Security spokesperson told FCW the agency anticipates the system will be ready for use in fiscal year 2018, and that 10 percent of current my Social Security account holders will be able to access the CET system in its first release.

Aug 4, 2017

FICA Receipts Hurt By IRS Budget Problems

     From the Fiscal Times:
A new report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released this week highlights the problem and suggests that the IRS may still be doing too little to go after employers suspected of hiding wages and failing to report billions of dollars in federal payroll taxes, including for Social Security and Medicare. 
The inspector general analyzed 137,272 cases from tax year 2013 in which there was a glaring discrepancy between employee wage and withholding information reported to both the IRS and the Social Security Administration and found that the IRS declined to investigate most of the possible fraud. According to the inspector general, the IRS intervened in only 23,184 of those cases, or just 17 percent of the total. ...
   And it's going to get worse since the IRS budget keeps getting cut, allowing abusive schemes to flourish.

Aug 3, 2017

Lots Of No Bid Contracting At Social Security

     According to a piece in The Hill by David Williams only 58% of Social Security's contract spending is awarded based upon competitive bidding.

Aug 2, 2017

Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives

From Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives by Alexander Gelber, Timothy Moore and Alexander Strand: 
We show that higher payments from U.S. Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) reduce mortality. Using administrative data on all new DI beneficiaries from 1997 to 2009, we exploit discontinuities in the benefit formula through a regression kink design. We estimate that $1,000 in annual DI payments decreases the annual mortality rate of lower-income beneficiaries by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points, implying that the elasticity of annual mortality with respect to annual DI income is around -0.6. These mortality effects imply large benefits that have not been taken into account in the welfare analysis of DI and other social income insurance programs.