Systemic Waste and Abuse at the Social Security Administration: How Rubber-Stamping Disability Judges Cost Hundreds of Billions of Taxpayer Dollars

June 10, 2014

Key findings:

•        Between 2005 and 2013, over 1.3 million people were placed on the program by ALJs with an annual allowance rate in excess of 75 percent. During that period, the overall allowance rate for ALJs was 65.8 percent, a seemingly high average allowance rate for cases that have already been denied.

•        The Social Security Administration failed to assess the quality of decisions made by judges with high allowance rates. Despite recognition among ALJs that judges with heavy case loads cannot properly consider the evidence, the SSA took no action to evaluate the quality decisions from judges who were deciding a high number of cases, even if judges issued decisions without hearings.

•        ALJ Charles Bridges approved 95 percent of the cases he reviewed and awarded approximately $4.5 billion in lifetime benefits from 2005-2013. An internal agency review found that 60 percent of a sample of ALJ Bridges decisions could not be supported by the evidence. The review also found ALJ Bridges failed to utilize vocational experts at hearings and often asked them questions only after he had declared his decision to award benefits.

•        ALJ David Daugherty had an allowance rate of nearly 99 percent and awarded approximately $2.5 billion in lifetime benefits between 2005 and his retirement in 2011. A 2011 internal review found that out of a random sample of 128 decisions, ALJ Daugherty only held one hearing that lasted longer than five minutes. Colleagues complained for decades that ALJ Daugherty violated time and attendance policies, conducted “sham hearings,” dismissed vocational experts and colluded with claimant representatives.

•        ALJ Harry Taylor approved 94 percent of his cases and awarded around $2.5 billion in lifetime benefits from 2005-2013. An internal review found the majority of ALJ Taylor’s decisions contained medical expert assessments that were not consistent with his ultimate findings of disability. ALJ Taylor’s colleagues complained that he fell asleep at work and during hearings; however, no disciplinary action was taken until May 2011- four years after the first allegations.