Saturday, March 29, 2008

OIG Looks at ALJ Productivity

There is much talk about the cause of the backlog of Social Security Disability and SSI cases. To see how long it takes at the hearing stage in your area click on this link. The Office of Inspector General recently released an audit report of the productivity of Administrative Law Judges to see if it played a factor in the backlog of cases. The Commissioner of SSA also has expressed the possibility that increasing the productivity of ALJs could decrease the backlog. SSA appears to be looking at setting some sort of minimal standard in terms of number of cases an ALJ should perform in a given year. There are several problems with SSA's ability to put a minimal standard of production on ALJs. First, Administrative Law Judges are supposed to be independent of SSA in their decision making. Therefore, SSA must be careful not to interfere with the ALJ decision making process. Second, the ALJs have a union that will probably appose any tough standard requirements for ALJs. Lastly, SSA will have to figure out what is an acceptable level of hearings per year for an ALJ. I remember the speech the Commissioner gave at the last NOSSCR conference and it was clear he was not happy about the production of some ALJs and expressed his frustration on his ability to do something about it, but it was clear he planned on working on the issue. I should note here that it has been my experience that the vast majority of ALJs are very productive, and as they should, balance that with the need for a fair hearing for the claimants. In my opinion, it is only a few ALJs that are not producing at a sufficient rate. However, SSA should have the ability to force those few to be more productive to help decrease the backlog of cases.