Mar 31, 2019

Job Opening

     Social Security has posted a job opening for the Deputy Associate Commissioner for Disability Policy position.  This is in the Senior Executive Service (SES) which means that while the position doesn’t require Senate confirmation, it can be filled on a political basis. Most SES positions, however,  are not political. Here’s the job description:
As full deputy and alter ego to the Associate Commissioner (AC) for Disability Policy, the Deputy Associate Commissioner (DAC) for Disability Policy oversees the development of broad medical concepts and disability program policies for medical issues governing the administration of the Title II and Title XVI programs. Included in this responsibility is the formulation of medical evaluation policies, interpretive guidance, and development of training programs for personnel involved in disability adjudication and decision-making.   
In consultation with the AC for Disability Policy, the DAC leads development, coordination and oversight of disability policies, procedures, and process requirements in support of the creation of an effective and efficient disability claims processing system consistent with policy. S/he oversees development and oversight of claimant representative policies and program integrity reporting requirements for the administration of Title II and Title XVI disability programs. The DAC leads the development and oversight of a vocational policy framework supporting accurate and consistent application of disability program policy through all levels of disability claims adjudication and the quality assurance process. The incumbent also ensures development of clear guidance for non-attorney representatives and requirements for sufficient training, as well of disability program fraud and similar fault policy. 
S/he oversees case analysis, studies, research and data analysis to provide an evidence base for proposed policy modernization, e.g., impairment severity and other medical disability issues, vocational and other non-medical disability issues, and studies on the disabled population relative to specific operational program issues. Accordingly, the incumbent develops automated data tools and maintains statistical databases.
     Which are the other current political SES positions at Social Security? What kind of people fill them?

Mar 30, 2019

Return Of No Match Letters

     From National Public Radio:
The Social Security Administration may be the latest front in the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration.  
 The agency is reviving the controversial practice of sending "no match" letters to businesses across the country, notifying them when an employee's Social Security number doesn't match up with official records.  
That may sound innocuous. But these no-match letters are expected to set off alarm bells. That's what happened when they arrived in the mail back in the mid-2000s. ...
There are a lot of reasons someone's Social Security number might not match: name changes or clerical errors, for example. But it can also mean that a worker is using a fake Social Security number. And when an employer gets one of these letters, it has to ask the worker to fix the problem. 
Labor unions and immigrant advocates took the issue to court in the mid-2000s. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce complained that the government was trying to turn businesses into "immigration cops." Eventually, the Obama administration stopped sending these letters in 2012. ...

Mar 29, 2019

En Banc Denied In Hicks Case

     The United States Court of Appeals has denied the petition for rehearing en banc in Hicks v. Berryhill. Hicks held that the process that Social Security used to do new reviews of benefit entitlement for the former clients of Eric Conn was unconstitutional. Social Security may ask the Supreme Court to hear the case but the Court is unlikely to accept it. The normal criteria for Supreme Court review -- conflict between different Circuits or broad national importance -- do not apply here. Social Security must redo these cases or give up on terminating these benefits.

About What I Would Have Expected

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
In a deferred OASDI [Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance] case, SSA [Social Security Administration] withholds an individual’s monthly benefit to collect prior incorrect payments or past-due Medicare premiums. An erroneous benefit deferral can occur if a technician incorrectly updates a beneficiary’s record.
The Agency designed systems to alert staff of errors in updating individuals’ records. However, staff could still make an error without causing a system alert. As a second line of review, in 2008, SSA deployed a program to identify cases with a high risk of error that leads to deferred benefits on individuals’ records. Therefore, the technician must review and correct the record as quickly as possible because the beneficiary’s payments have stopped. 
We identified 19,661 cases that SSA’s program classified as having a high risk of error in deferring payment of OASDI benefits based on the information gathered from program service centers (PSC) 2 through 6 for Fiscal Year 2017. 
SSA did not always correctly process cases it identified as having a high risk of error in deferring payment of OASDI benefits. Of the 100 sampled beneficiary records we reviewed, SSA did not correctly process 66 it identified as having a high risk of error. Of the 66 errors, 54 resulted in improper payments. This included approximately $115,000 in overpayments and $87,000 in underpayments. We found four types of payment errors: (1) incorrect manual overpayment adjustments, (2) inaccurate manual adjustments to Medicare premiums owed, (3) failure to release underpayments, and (4) failure to take corrective action. We project SSA incorrectly processed the deferred cases for about 13,000 beneficiaries, which resulted in incorrect payments of approximately $40 million to about 11,000 beneficiaries.
Additionally, we identified two beneficiaries who had incorrect overpayment amounts, totaling approximately $6,000, posted to their records. Finally, SSA did not have consistent procedures among PSCs for identifying and correcting deferred benefit cases. Specifically, three of the eight PSCs did not use the program other PSCs used to identify deferred benefit cases. ...
     OIG didn't work out how a dollar figure for much these sorts of errors would work out to if they are happening at the same rate across all of the high risk cases but it would surely be a lot of money.
     Before anyone starts blaming incompetent bureaucrats, remember that the payment centers are overworked and understaffed. Errors are inevitable in any large organization but they are far more likely in an organization that lacks adequate staffing. If you want to improve payment center performance, it's going to cost money. On the other hand, if you want Social Security to fail in order to fulfill you own prophecies about government incompetence, we're on the right track.

Mar 28, 2019

Payment Center Processing Times Improved But Is Service Really Better?

Currently, the PCs [Payment Centers, where Social Security, but not SSI benefits, are authorized] are working through a backlog of pending actions. Our PCs reduced the number of pending actions to 3.2 million as of September 2018, a 37 percent decrease from an all-time high of more than 5 million in January 2016. We targeted hiring and overtime in the PCs, and we continue to focus on automation, workflow enhancements, and quality initiatives to improve PC performance. Through our IT [Information Technology] modernization initiative, we will continue to pursue opportunities to reduce the PC backlog by streamlining and automating manual PC workloads. These efforts will help us work towards reducing the number of pending actions to 2.5 million by the end of FY 2020. However, the outcome of the court case, Steigerwald v. Berryhill [a class action that will probably require recomputations of benefits for a large group of claimants who had been underpaid], could impede our progress in reducing the PC backlog.
     What I'm seeing is some small improvement in speed of payment -- but only for the simple, easy cases. The PCs seem to be fast tracking, that is doing the quick, easy stuff first but God help you if your case involves any level of complexity because it's going to take forever. Fast tracking leads to better looking numbers but is it a fair trade-off to improve service to a lot of people by a few days by imposing many months of delay on a smaller group of people?

Mar 27, 2019

Saul Nomination Moves Forward

     By a unanimous vote, the Senate Finance Committee has reported out favorably the nomination of Andrew Saul to become Commissioner of Social Security.

Trump Administration Wants To End Attorney Fee Withholding

     From a list of Trump Administration legislative proposals for Social Security:
Change the Representative Fee and Approval Process. This proposal would eliminate fee caps, and relieve SSA of responsibility for fee approval, withholding, and payment functions; however, it would not affect our ability to prescribe who may and may not represent claimants. This proposal would streamline and decrease SSA’s operations and hearings workloads, allowing employees to focus on adjudicating more cases and completing other high priority workloads, thereby better serving the public.
     No, this isn't happening with Democrats in control of the House of Representatives but it does give an insight into Trump Administration attitudes.

Mar 26, 2019

Dreadful Public Service To Get Worse

     Below is a page from Social Security's materials on the fiscal year 2020 budget proposed by the Trump Administration. Click on the image to view full size. There are other things to notice but note in particular that the budget anticipates the average speed of answer on the agency's 800 number to go up from 13 minutes to 15 minutes and the average busy rate to go up from 9% to 12%. On what planet is that acceptable service?

Mar 25, 2019

Saul Nomination Moves Forward

     The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled an Open Executive Session for tomorrow to consider reporting out the nomination of Andrew Saul to become Commissioner of Social Security. The final step in the nomination process would then be consideration by the entire Senate.

Hearing Backlog Decreasing Rapidly

Mar 24, 2019

Budget Proposals

     From the Trump Administration's detailed budget proposal for fiscal year 2020: 
  • Simplify administration of the SSI program. The Budget proposes changes to simplify the SSI program by incentivizing support from recipients’ family and friends, reducing SSA’s administrative burden, and streamlining requirements for applicants. SSI benefits are reduced by the amount of food and shelter, or in-kind support and maintenance, a beneficiary receives. The policy is burdensome to administer and is a leading source of SSI improper payments. The Budget proposes to replace the complex calculation of in-kind support and maintenance with a flat rate reduction for adults living with other adults to capture economies of scale. The Budget also proposes to eliminate dedicated accounts for past due benefits and to eliminate the administratively burdensome consideration whether a couple is holding themselves out as married. The proposal saves $648 million over 10 years.
  • Exclude SSA debts from discharge in bankruptcy. Debts due to an overpayment of Social Security benefits are generally dischargeable in bankruptcy. The Budget includes a proposal to exclude such debts from discharge in bankruptcy, except when it would result in an undue hardship. This proposal would help ensure program integrity by increasing the amount of overpayments SSA recovers and would save $274 million over 10 years. 
  • Establish replacement Social Security card fee. The Budget proposes to collect fees on replacement Social Security cards. First-time Social Security cards including cards issued at birth would not be subject to the fee. The new fee would offset some administrative costs of processing Social Security card requests. While having a Social Security Number is required for many public and private sector transactions, individuals rarely need to display the physical Social Security card.

Mar 23, 2019

SSI Work Incentives Not Working

     From the Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers a set of work incentives for Supplemental Security income (SSI) beneficiaries. Work incentive employment supports help SSI recipients go to work by minimizing the risk of losing their SSI or Medicaid benefits (Social Security Administration, 2018). One such incentive, the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), allows approved individuals to set aside earned or unearned income and resources to achieve an employment goal. The money or resources set aside are excluded from SSI income and resource tests and can be used to pay for goods or services needed to reach the goal, such as education, vocational training, starting a business, or purchasing work-related equipment (Social Security Administration, 2017).  
The number of recipients enrolled nationally in any SSA work incentive program between 2000 and 2016 remains low and has been declining. In particular, the PASS incentive program has seen decreased enrollment in the last fifteen years - a 50% decrease from 2000 to 2016 in the number of individuals who enrolled. This is especially notable considering SSA reported providing benefits to 4,845,735 blind and disabled* SSI recipients aged 18-65 in 2016. Furthermore, there are only 692 PASS users enrolled nationwide, making it the least used incentive of those offered. Please refer to Table 1 for more details on three SSI work incentives. 
Despite SSAs investment in the Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program, SSI work incentives remain profoundly underutilized as a path towards employment for SSI recipients.
Click on image to view full size

Mar 22, 2019

Pre-Effectuation Reviews Of ALJ Decisions

     From the Social Security Administration's explanation of the Trump Administration's fiscal year 2020 budget proposal:
To improve oversight of the quality of decisions issued by the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO), we are finalizing plans to perform a pre-effectuation review of OHO decisions in FY 2019 that will provide feedback at the national level. We will provide feedback on deficient cases, and the Appeals Council will take corrective action on individual cases as needed. Using the FY 2019 data, we will assess potential review changes to provide additional information and determine resources needed to expand the review or conduct targeted reviews in FY 2020.

Probably Benign

     The Social Security Administration has asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve the publication of new regulations:
... to create a Security and Suitability Files system to cover any additional security and suitability related information generated by SSA that is not sent to the Office of Personnel Management. We will use the information we collect to conduct background investigations and establish that applicants or incumbents, either employed by SSA or working for SSA under contract, are suitable for employment with us. ...
     This is just a proposal. The public can comment on it once it is published in the Federal Register. To me, it sounds a bit sinister but it's probably benign.

Mar 20, 2019

Smith v. Berryhill Oral Argument Summary

     SCOTUSblog has posted a detailed summary of yesterday's Supreme Court oral argument in Smith v. Berryhill, a case concerning whether judicial review is available for Appeals Council dismissals. There's a lot of attention to major Supreme Court cases, as well there should be, but the Supreme Court's docket contains plenty of straightforward cases like this one where the political leanings of justices have little or no effect on the outcome.

OHO Processing Time Report

     This is a processing time report for Social Security's Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) obtained from the agency by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in their newsletter, which isn't available online to non-members.
Click on image to view full size

Mar 19, 2019

Headcount Ticks Up

     The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted updated figures for the number of employees at the Social Security Administration:
  • September 2018 62,519
  • June 2018 60,898
  • December 2017 62,777
  • September 2017 62,297
  • June 2017 61,592
  • March 2017 62,183
  • December 2016 63,364
  • December 2015 65,518
  • December 2014 65,430
  • December 2013 61,957
  • December 2012 64,538
  • September 2011 67,136
  • December 2010 70,270
  • December 2009 67,486
  • December 2008 63,733
  • September 2008 63,990

Mar 18, 2019

Proposed Regs On CDRs Moving Forward

     The Social Security Administration has asked the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve publication of proposed regulations in the Federal Register on continuing disability reviews. Below is all that is publicly known about this proposal:
We propose to revise our rules regarding when and how often we conduct continuing disability reviews (CDR). The proposed regulations would add a new category to our existing medical diary categories that we use to schedule CDRs and would revise the criteria we follow to place a case in each of the categories. They would also change how often we perform a CDR for claims with the medical diary category for permanent impairments. These revised regulations would ensure that we continue to identify medical improvement at its earliest point and remain up to date with current research.
     If OMB approves this, it will be published in full and the public can comment on it. Social Security is supposed to consider the comments before publishing a final rule. We’re already getting a little late in the term of office to which Donald Trump has been elected for this to all be completed. but it can happen.

Mar 17, 2019

Senators Pressure Trump Administration On Social Media Monitoring

     From a press release:
Today, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) pressured the Trump Administration to provide answers to the American public following a report from the New York Times this week that the White House is working with the Social Security Administration (SSA) on a proposal to monitor social media accounts of Americans who claim disability benefits. The Senators’ letter raises several questions about the proposal related to the privacy of American citizens, the already limited resources available to SSA workers, the use of artificial intelligence, and plans to increase the scope of the social media monitoring program.

Mar 16, 2019

This Is Terrible

     From WFLA:
Mamie Walker is 84-years-old, has never attended college and depends on her monthly social security check of $1,498 to survive. 
But for the past two months, the government has sent Mamie nothing, except a letter claiming she owes them $224,414.50. 
A letter from the Treasury Department 
claims she has been referred to them for "collection action."  
The letter explains up to 15 percent of each of her checks will be withheld to pay the debt. That was shocking enough, but no check came at all in February or March. She received another letter stating she won't receive another check until Sept. 2031.
"I'll probably be dead by then," Walker said. "I'm so scared. I don't sleep at night because I'm so scared next week ... my lights are going to be off." 
Mamie says she not only never went to college, but she never learned to read or write because she had to go to work as a child to help support her family as a "field hand." ...
     I can guess that she guaranteeded a student loan for a relative. If not, this is one hell of a mistake. If it is a student loan for a relative, this points out the horrors of the current system. It’s possible for her to get out from under this crushing burden by declaring bankruptcy but it’s not easy.

Mar 15, 2019

No, I Don’t Think That SSA Can Solve Its Lucia Problem By Having The Appeals Council Deny All The People Who Filed Lucia Objections

      I’ve already heard some colleagues say that the new Social Security Ruling giving the agency’s response to the Supreme Court opinion in Lucia v. SEC means that the agency thinks it can solve its Lucia problem by having the Appeals Council itself issue de novo decisions in the cases. There are a couple of problems with this. First, the Appeals Council isn’t set up to issue thousands of de novo decisions. Second, and more important, the Social Security Act says that claimants are entitled to hearings. If you’re agreeing that the hearing that was held was constitutionally invalid, how do you get around giving the claimant a new hearing? There’s a lot of wishful thinking at Social Security. I hope they’re not so far gone that they think they can get away with that. I think the language that some are pointing to about the Appeals Council issuing decisions is only intended to allow the Appeals Council to issue fully favorable decisions in a few cases.
     I have to mention that after Lucia came down I told everyone who would listen that we should be filing Lucia objections in every case pending at the Appeals Council.

Mar 14, 2019

New Lucia Ruling

 The Social Security Administration is publishing a new Ruling concerning the effects of the Supreme Court opinion in Lucia v. SEC. I haven’t had time to digest the Ruling but it sounds like there’s a lot of remands coming for those who filed timely objections.

The Emerging Republican Position: Increase Social Security Benefits Just A Little

     From Forbes:
Increasing Social Security benefits for widows can get enough support from both parties in Congress to become law, House Ways & Means Committee Social Security Subcommittee lead Republican Tom Reed said Wednesday.  
Stressing the need for an increase at a subcommittee hearing, the New York Congressman said the current system risks putting new widows in poverty by cutting their families’ Social Security payments by a third to a half. 
“Increasing the Social Security survivor’s benefit to 75 percent of the couple’s prior benefit could prevent hardship at a reasonable cost to the program,” said conservative think tank retirement expert Andrew Biggs. ...
     The Democratic proposal is for a general increase in benefits.  Their bill would also increase taxes.

Mar 13, 2019

That Trump Budget Proposal

     From Michael Hiltzik writing for the Los Angeles Times:
Much of the news coverage of President Trump’s proposed 2020 budget, which was released Monday, focuses on two aspects.
One: It’s just a PR exercise, since presidential budgets never get enacted. Two: Trump’s demand for $8.6 billion to build his border wall sets up a new conflict with Congress and maybe another government shutdown.
What shouldn’t fly under the radar, however, are the huge cuts to social safety net programs embedded in the document’s 150 appalling pages. These include drastic reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—which Trump always promised to protect from any cuts—and to food stamps, housing assistance and family assistance. ...
Trump would gut the nation’s disability programs by $84 billion. At least $10 billion of that would come from Social Security disability through changes in eligibility rules. Another $400 million would come out of the Social Security Administration’s administrative budget, which is already strapped for cash, in the next year alone. Beneficiaries could expect more busy signals on the phone lines and longer waits at Social Security offices. ...

Mar 12, 2019

Trump Budget Fantasy Released

     The Trump budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 is out. Overall, the budget proposes a 3.5% cut in administrative funding. Considering inflation, that would be a cut of more than 5% in rel dollar terms. That would undoubtedly lead to a significant reduction in force.
     Below are the primary proposals for Social Security. Click on each to view full size.

     Remember that appropriations must be passed by the House of Representatives which is controlled by Democrats. This budget is only a wish list that may have little to do with what actually gets passed.

Mar 11, 2019

White House Wants Social Security To Snoop On Disability Claimants' Social Media Posts

Brian C. Blase
     From the New York Times:
If you’re on federal disability payments and on social media, be careful what you post. Uncle Sam wants to watch.
The Trump administration has been quietly working on a proposal to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to help identify people who claim Social Security disability benefits without actually being disabled. If, for example, a person claimed benefits because of a back injury but was shown playing golf in a photograph posted on Facebook, that could be used as evidence that the injury was not disabling. ...
In its budget request to Congress last year, Social Security said it would study whether to expand the use of social media networks in disability determinations as a way to “increase program integrity and expedite the identification of fraud.”
Since then, administration officials said, the White House has been actively working with Social Security to flesh out the proposal, in the belief that social media could be a treasure trove of information about people who are applying for or receiving disability benefits.
Some members of Congress, like Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, and some conservative organizations, like the Heritage Foundation in Washington, have supported the idea as part of a broader effort to prevent the payment of disability benefits to people who are able to work. ...
Brian C. Blase, a special assistant to the president for economic policy, has been coordinating development of the new proposals on Social Security. In 2014, Mr. Blase provided the staff work for a subcommittee investigation of the disability program led by Mr. Lankford, who was then a member of the House. Soon after he got to the Senate, Mr. Lankford proposed legislation to expand the use of “evidence obtained from publicly available social media.” ...
The Trump administration contends that it could authorize greater use of social media by regulation, without action by Congress. Under pressure from the White House, Social Security has drafted a timeline that envisions publication of a final rule in the spring of 2020.
Michael J. Astrue, the last Senate-confirmed Social Security commissioner, has expressed misgivings about the idea.
“Social media sites are not exactly clear and reliable evidence,” Mr. Astrue, who stepped down six years ago, said at a Senate hearing in 2012. “Facebook puts up phony websites under my name all the time.”
That, he said, is “why you need professionally trained fraud investigators” to evaluate the information. ...
The program has been “riddled with problems, including fraud and abuse,” said Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. When people who can work collect benefits, she said, “it drains the system for those who truly cannot work and support themselves.” ...
Social Security officials are considering other changes that could make it more difficult for people to qualify for benefits.
They are working with the White House to overhaul the way Social Security weighs various “vocational factors” — age, education and job experience — in deciding whether a person is able to work. ...

Mar 8, 2019

CCD Issues Position Paper On DDS Reform

     The Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is a large umbrella group lobbying and advocating in D.C. for persons with disabilities. The CCD is composed of about 100 organizations helping the disabled population. The CCD was largely ignored when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. It becomes more important now that Democrats control the House of Representatives. 
     The CCD has put out a statement on Improving Decision Making at the Disability Determination Services. Here are a few excerpts:
... It is the position of the CCD Social Security Task Force that the state Disability Determination Services (DDS) should only review a claim one time and that the current second level of review they perform, called reconsideration, be eliminated. ...
Although the Task Force does not have a specific recommendation regarding what performance metrics should be for DDS employees, it is the Task Force position that the completeness of the file upon which the decision is based should somehow be included in those metrics. ...
[Social Security should] Consider creating impairment specific explanations and forms that claimants can provide to their physician and other treating sources outlining what information is most helpful to SSA in evaluating the claim and including the types of tests which help establish meeting the listing in question. ...
SSA should review more denials of initial claims. TDRs [Targeted Denial Reviews] allow SSA’s Office of Quality Review (OQR) to examine unfavorable decisions of disability claims issued by state agencies. Fewer than 3 percent of initial level denials receive TDRs; the number performed varies each year based on resources available to the agency. In comparison, Sections 221 (c) and 1633 (e) of the Social Security Act require SSA to review at least half of the favorable decisions issued by state agencies. ...

Mar 7, 2019

Two Congressional Hearings Next Week

     The House Social Security Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for March 12 on Protecting and Enhancing Social Security: Enhancing Social Security To Strengthen The Middle Class. The Subcommittee hasn't yet posted it but the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) says the Subcommittee has another hearing scheduled for the following day on  Protecting and Enhancing Social Security: Benefit Enhancements.

Mar 6, 2019

OIG Seeking More Help

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) seeking a contractor to help do investigations of alleged fraud in the Chicago area. This isn't just office work. They want the contractor to provide employees who have concealed carry permits. 
     OIG agents plus contracts with local law enforcement aren't enough? You get the feeling that OIG is rolling in dough while the rest of the agency is starving.

Mar 5, 2019

Don't Do This

     From the Press of Atlantic City:
A Social Security Administration employee admitted Monday to unlawfully accessing the Social Security accounts of individuals and falsifying their records to steal funds for his own use, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Nicholas Pao, 37, of Egg Harbor Township, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez in federal court to charges of theft of government funds and aggravated identity theft, Carpenito said.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Pao was a 10-year employee of the Social Security Administration who worked as a claims technical expert in the administration’s office in Egg Harbor Township, Carpenito said.
Pao was responsible for determining eligibility and payment amounts, processing difficult cases, assisting in case reviews, and making special payment approvals, Carpenito said.
From December 2014 to July of last year, Pao used his credentials to access the confidential records of several individuals without their knowledge or authority, Carpenito said.
Pao altered their records and made fraudulent changes that caused the Social Security Administration to issue benefits to these individuals, Carpenito said. He would then intercept these benefits, which were issued by way of a Direct Express account and credit card. ...

Mar 4, 2019

MSPB Paralyzed

     The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) no longer has any Senate confirmed members, making it unclear whether it can function at all. 
     The only way that Administrative Law Judges may be disciplined is by their employing agency bringing an action before the MSPB. 
     Of course, the MSPB is also supposed to provide federal employees more generally the opportunity for a hearing if they feel that their employing agency has treated them in an illegal way.
     Here's Government Executive's explanation for the lack of confirmed MSPB members:
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has already approved two of President Trump’s nominees to serve at MSPB. Senate Republicans have said they will not vote on those two individuals, however, until Trump nominates a third board member to ensure the board maintains a Republican majority. Trump’s third nominee, Andrew Maunz, withdrew his name from consideration earlier this month. 
     I can't understand why it would be crucial that the MSPB have a Republican majority during the interregnum until another Republican can be confirmed. If there are two members, one a Republican and one a Democrat, there won't be a majority to take any action unless they're in agreement with each other. How can that be worse than having no one confirmed? Shouldn't the MSPB be run in as nonpartisan way as possible? This sad state of affairs may be a sign of just how hyper-partisan the GOP has become.

Mar 3, 2019

Glad They Caught This Guy

     From a press release:
Jason Pantone, age 34, of Hyde Park, New York, was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint with mailing envelopes containing suspicious white powder to federal offices in New York and Connecticut ...
As alleged in the criminal complaint, Pantone is accused of using the U.S. mail to send envelopes containing white power to locations in New York and Connecticut.  Each envelope contained suspicious white powder and a note indicating, or implying, that the powder was dangerous or intended to cause harm. The complaint alleges that beginning in February 2019, Pantone mailed envelopes addressed to the Social Security Administration Offices in the towns and cities of Plattsburgh, Binghamton, Utica, West Nyack, White Plains, New York, as well as offices in Hartford and Torrington, Connecticut.  The complaint also alleges that additional letters were addressed to United States District Court offices in Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany, Plattsburgh, and Utica.  All the envelopes contained a typed note, which said “ANTHRAX.” 
All samples of the white powder tested thus far have not contained hazardous material. ...

Mar 1, 2019

Commissioner Nominee Opposes NYC Mass Transit Fare Increases

     Here are excerpts from an article in the New York Post:
The MTA [Metropolitan Transit Authority] voted Wednesday to raise the price of weekly and monthly MetroCards, while nixing bonuses on pay-per-ride cards — as one of its board members blasted the decision, saying straphangers are the ones getting “screwed.” ...
Ahead of the vote, board member Andrew Saul explained why he was voting against the plan, saying, “The riders are getting screwed.”
“This is a bloated bureaucracy,” Saul said. “This thing is full of waste … I think it’s dead wrong to put this thing on the riders.” ...
      I don't know how much this reflects upon Andrew Saul's qualifications to become Commissioner of Social Security. However, I do know that Republican officeholders almost always oppose additional government revenues even if that inevitably causes degradation in government functioning. The claim is that additional revenues aren't needed because of governmental "waste, fraud and abuse". I'm sure that most Republican officeholders actually believe the "waste, fraud and abuse" claims but I'm also sure that most are either indifferent to declines in government service or actually favor such declines.
     At least in this article, Saul doesn't identify what waste it is that he would like to get rid of so that the fare increase can be avoided. That's generally how it works. Republican either cannot identify the "waste, fraud and abuse" they want to get rid of or or the "waste, fraud and abuse" they do identify is low level stuff that has no appreciable effect upon an agency's budget and can no more be totally eliminated than shoplifting can be totally eliminated by a retail store.
     If Saul comes into the position of Social Security Commissioner believing that there must be terrible waste and inefficiency at Social Security that he can eliminate, he's in for a rude awakening. It's not there.