Aug 31, 2018

Just In Time For The Labor Day Weekend

     From the Baltimore Sun:
Unions representing thousands of Social Security Administration employees said Thursday that the agency is lifting rules that restricted the unions’ ability to advocate for members in the workplace. The rules had been issued by President Donald Trump in three executive orders May 25. 

A federal judge ruled Saturday that Trump overstepped his authority in significant portions of the orders, which restricted members’ access to government office space for union business and limited the time for union activities such as discussion about grievances.
The American Federation of Government Employees and other unions had been waiting since Saturday for the Baltimore-based Social Security Administration to confirm it would comply, as the Justice Department in Washington weighed a possible appeal.
Confirmation came Thursday.
“As of August 30, the agency is returning to the terms we had with our unions prior to the implementation of the executive orders,” the administration said in a statement in response to Baltimore Sun questions. “Social Security enacted these steps consistent with the recent District Court ruling and accompanying guidance issued by the Office of Personnel Management.” ...

Aug 30, 2018

Social Security In No Hurry To Comply With Court Ruling On Unions

     From Joe Davidson writing for the Washington Post:

Federal labor organizations won a major battle against President Trump with a U.S. District Court ruling overturning major sections of executive orders that substantially undermined government unions.
But the lingering effects could continue to haunt the already mangled management-labor relationship in an administration that has taken one step after another to alienate federal employees.
First, will the administration obey the court order? ...
The response of the Social Security Administration is instructive. It demonstrates no hurry to follow the court’s decision....
Emails provided by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) from Social Security labor relations officials in Chicago and Dallas to local union leaders indicate the agency still considers Trump’s orders binding.
“The agency is currently evaluating the judge’s ruling on the executive orders,” said a labor and employee relations supervisor in Chicago. “We will not make any changes until that evaluation is complete.”
An email sent Monday from a Social Security official in Dallas said “we just received notice from headquarters, that the Agency’s position remains the same on the guidance that was effective on July 9, until further notice.”  ...
     Update: The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has now instructed federal agencies to comply with the District Court decision.

SSR 82-53 Rescinded

     The Social Security Administration has announced that it is rescinding Social Security Ruling 82-53.

Aug 29, 2018

Bill Introduced To Restore ALJs To Competitive Service

     From Government Executive:
A pair of senators is looking to reverse a recent executive order issued by President Trump to remove administrative law judges from the competitive service, which critics have warned could strip the executive branch employees of their independence.
President Trump in July issued an executive order that would allow agency heads to pick whomever they wish to be administrative law judges, provided they are active lawyers or judges. Previously, the Office of Personnel Management independently vetted candidates, and then submitted to agencies a short list of potential names.
The new bill, introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, would restore the government’s 1,900 ALJs—most of whom work for the Social Security Administration—to the competitive service. The reversion would ensure OPM makes hiring recommendations based on “qualifications and competence,” the senators said, rather than any arbitrary justification political appointees choose. ...

Astrue And Fichtner Nominated For Social Security Advisory Board

     The President has nominated former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue and Jason Fichtner to become members of the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB). Astrue is well known to readers of this blog. Fichtner recently called for increasing Social Security's full retirement age and cutting cost of living adjustments as well as an increase in the F.I.C.A. tax the supports Social Security's trust funds.
     The SSAB has no direct role in the management of the Social Security Administration and only limited influence. SSAB members often testify at Congressional hearings on Social Security matters but, again, their influence is limited.

Aug 28, 2018

Discouraging Status Of FY Appropriation

     Congressional work on the appropriations bills needed to fund the government in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, which begins on October 1, 2018, has proceeded along what used to be a normal track, with each House of Congress passing separate appropriations bills for broad sectors of the government with differences to be ironed out in a conference committee. The conference committee hasn't finished its work. I'm not sure it's even been appointed but things are far ahead of recent years where agencies worked on continuing resolutions (CRs) well into the new fiscal year and sometimes for the entire fiscal year.
     This does not mean that there will be no government shutdown or prolonged CR this time around. Congress can only do so much. There's another branch of government whose headquarter is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Some experts think there will be a government shutdown, mostly over the President's insistence on tens of billions of dollars in funding for a border wall. Even most Republicans aren't eager for that wall, much less a government shutdown over it, but the President believes it vitally important. He may even think it's just what he needs to get Republican voters out to the polls in November. I'd call that nuts but I'm not a Republican voter.
     Whenever an appropriation bill gets passed, it's almost certain to be bad news for Social Security. Both the House and Senate passed appropriations bills give the Social Security Administration $11 billion in operating funds, which is what the President requested, but which is $400 million below the appropriation for the current fiscal year. The cut is even worse than it sounds, however. You have to consider inflation which is about 2.9%. Social Security needed an increase of about $330 million just to stay even. The agency will effectually receive a 6.4% cut in its operating budget. That's going to hurt.
     If you want the best case scenario, it would be that despite the appropriations progress already made, we'll still end up with a CR and that the CR will extend past the start of the new Congress next January and that Democrats will control one or both Houses of Congress which will allow them to make demands with a higher appropriation for Social Security being one of their demands. I don't think that's going to happen. If nothing else, Democrats winning one or both Houses of Congress would concentrate the attention of Republicans who would rush to enact appropriations bills before their power diminishes.

Aug 27, 2018

OIG Says It Needs Valet Parking Spaces

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) is seeking four valet parking spaces for government vehicles in New York City. Needing parking spaces I understand but valet parking spaces?

     Update: The title of the contracting notice now reads: Four Self-Park Garage Parking Spaces.

Aug 26, 2018

Disability And Survivor Benefits Matter

     According to a study by Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary, the chances of living to full retirement age without becoming disabled is 64% for males and 70% for females born in 1998. It is the same for females born in 1966 but only 58% for males born in 1966. Despite the improvement, that's still a lot of death and disability before full retirement age. People dramatically undervalue the importance of Social Security disability and survivor benefits. Yes, it can happen to you.

Aug 25, 2018

Who Knew?

     When I train new attorneys at my firm in Social Security law, I always emphasize the need to be on the outlook for men entitled to widowers benefits. Here's why.

Aug 24, 2018

ALJ Maher Kills Himself After Armed Standoff With Police

A Miami federal judge [employed by the Social Security Administration], already under investigation, armed and barricaded in his home with family members as possible hostages surrounded by tactical police has reportedly shot and killed himself, a veteran Miami crime journalist reported.
Federal administrative law judge Timothy Maher was arrested last week for threatening the mother of his child with a rifle and was this week alleged to have threatened a co-worker in a federal building.  ...
It was reported that police negoiators could be heard saying, “Anybody living or inside the residence at 23985, if you can hear me, all I need you to do is turn some lights on and off anywhere in your house so my team can see that you’re OK.”
There were conflicting reports of who was inside the home, but reports said police could be heard calling out to the house through a megaphone for a 13-year-old girl believed to be inside be released. ...

ALJ Makes The Big Time

     Social Security's Administrative Law Judge Thomas Mayer, who's been discussed here a good bit lately, has really made the big time. He's the topic of a @_FloridaMan tweet
     If you're not familiar with @_FloridaMan, well, you should be.

Aug 23, 2018

Miami Hearing Office Closed

ALJ Maher Being Arraigned
     From the Miami Herald:
A downtown Miami federal office remained closed Wednesday as federal agents investigated whether a  judge who handles disability cases threatened a co-worker, according to a law-enforcement source familiar with the incident.
The suspected threat is believed to have come from Timothy Maher [an Administrative Law Judge], who was arrested last week and accused of threatening his ex-girlfriend with a rifle at his home in El Portal. The threat was made Tuesday against one of his colleagues at the Social Security Administration office, 333 S. Miami Ave., where Maher normally works reviewing social-security disability claims.
The decision to close the office, according to sources, was made by Federal Protective Services, a branch of U.S. Homeland Security, which provides armed security for U.S. government buildings. FPS did not notify Miami or Miami-Dade police, which usually work in coordination with law enforcement from Homeland Security. ...

Read more here:

Aug 22, 2018

We Can't Answer Our Phones But We're Up To Date In Cutting People Off Benefits

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2018 12:50 PM
Subject: Achievement of Medical CDR Currency

A Message To All SSA and DDS Employees  

Subject: Achievement of Medical CDR Currency

I am pleased to announce that in August 2018, we achieved currency with the release of all available medical Continuing Disability Reviews (CDR) for fiscal year 2018.  This is a major achievement as it is the first time we’ve reached this milestone since 2002, and only the second time in Social Security history!

From the Disability Determination Services and their staff, to the Office of Budget and Office of Systems, and the regional and field offices across the country, reaching this monumental achievement truly was a team effort.  Our pledge going forward will be to maintain currency with the CDR workload, which is an important part of our program integrity workloads and our stewardship responsibilities.

As part of our program integrity and stewardship responsibilities, we need to ensure that only those who continue to meet our eligibility requirements for disability receive benefits.  I want to express my sincere appreciation to all of you for helping us stay mission-focused for the public we serve.

Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Culbertson SCOTUS Oral Argument Set For November 7

     Culbertson v. Berryhill, on whether fees subject to Social Security Act's 25-percent cap include only fees for representation in court or also fees for representation before the agency, is scheduled for oral argument before the Supreme Court on November 7.

Aug 21, 2018

Five Rare Disorders Added To Compassionate Allowance List

     Social Security has added the following new medical conditions to its Compassionate Allowance list: 
  • Fibrolamellar Cancer
  • Megacystis Microcolon Intestinal Hypoperistalsis Syndrome
  • Megalencephaly-Capillary Malformation Syndrome
  • Superficial Siderosis of the Central Nervous System
  • Tetrasomy 18p 
     These are all rare disorders. It's rare for any compassionate disorder condition to show up in a disability claim. I've yet to see one.
     It always seems like Social Security adds to the compassionate allowance list when they've got a Congressional hearing coming up and they want to show how, uh, "compassionate" they are. I don't know of an upcoming Congressional hearing, however.

Aug 20, 2018

Miami ALJ Maher Having Problems

     I recently posted about the arrest of Administrative Law Judge Timothy Robert Maher of Social Security's Miami hearing office on charges of threatening his girlfriend with a gun in the presence of their child. There's more to the story. Police were called to Maher's residence on three consecutive nights after his arrest. Maher also recently got into what sounds like a road rage incident with another driver.

Aug 19, 2018

SSA To Launch GitHub Site -- What's That?

     From Healthcare IT News:
The Agency for Health Research and Quality and the Social Security Administration here on Monday announced plans for kicking off challenges to identify technologies that solve specific problems.
SSA Executive Director of Health IT Jude Soundararajan said here at the White House Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference that in September SSA will launch a GitHub site with its use case for disabilities. And he said that developer contests will follow.
"We get tons of faxes, tons of unstructured data we want to analyze. Look for challenges around that and look for challenges around FHIR for our use case," Soundararajan said. "I'm looking forward to working with the developer community." ...
     Can someone explain this one to me?