Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., released a staff report which finds poor decision-making by administrative law judges (ALJs) in the Social Security Administration (SSA) disability programs has potentially wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.
The report finds SSA is allowing administrative law judges (ALJs) to decide disability cases “even when they demonstrate gross incompetence or negligence in handling their responsibilities.” Committee staff reviewed 48 “focused reviews” the agency conducted of selected ALJs and found each review showed “numerous deficiencies” in the ALJ’s decision-making process. Between 2005 and 2013, ALJs awarded benefits in 3.2 million cases, with each award averaging a lifetime cost of around $300,000.
The report also found that SSA exerted “considerable pressure” on ALJs to decide an high number of cases each year, going so far as to hold “bad office” conference calls with hearing offices that did not meet disposition targets and threatening to restrict teleworking privileges for underperforming ALJs. According to the report, SSA’s “disposition targets” were arbitrarily selected and high enough to call into question the quality of the resulting ALJ decisions.
Titled “Misplaced Priorities: How the Social Security Administration Sacrificed Quality for Quantity in the Disability Determination Process,” the new report continues the Committee’s oversight of SSA’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Without substantial reforms, the SSDI trust fund will be bankrupt by 2016, resulting in an automatic 19 percent across-the-board cut to benefits.
· All of the 48 ALJ focused reviews conducted by SSA and reviewed by Committee staff showed numerous deficiencies in ALJ decision-making and several disturbing patterns. ALJs conducted few or inadequate hearings, misused vocational experts, failed to properly assess work ability and relied too heavily on medical briefs prepared by claimants’ paid representatives. (p. 13)
· SSA continues to allow ALJs to decide cases even when they demonstrate gross incompetence or negligence in handling their responsibilities. In several cases, SSA did not inform the ALJ about the negative focused review for over eight months after the review was completed. (p. 28)
· SSA was singularly focused on churning out a large volume of dispositions, which led to inappropriate benefit awards. In 2007, the agency directed ALJs to decide 500 to 700 decisions each year, without conducting any study to determine how long it takes ALJs to evaluate cases and issue informed decisions.
· SSA encouraged ALJs to take shortcuts in deciding cases to increase the amount of decisions issued each year. The agency promoted on-the-record decisions, which do not require a hearing, and bench decisions, which do not require a written opinion, to increase the number of decisions issued.
You can read the complete report here.
|Misplaced Priorities: How the Social Security Administration Sacrificed Quality for Quantity in the Disability Determination Process||Document|