The Honorable Michael R. McNulty
Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security
Committee on Ways and Means
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I am pleased to provide you with the enclosed report addressing your December 18, 2007 request that we provide information related to administrative law judge (ALJ) and hearing office performance. This report contains information related to
statistics of ALJ dispositions;
statistics of ALJ and hearing office processing times;
factors that affect ALJ and hearing office performance;
an identification and assessment of the management tools used by Office of Disability Adjudication and Review officials to oversee ALJ performance; and
management initiatives to support increases in ALJ productivity.
If you have any questions or would like to be briefed on this issue, please call me or have your staff contact Jonathan Lasher, Deputy Chief Counsel for External Relations, at (410) 965-7178.
Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr.
August 8, 2008
The Honorable Sam Johnson
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Social Security
Committee on Ways and Means
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative Johnson:
I am pleased to provide you with the enclosed report addressing your December 18, 2007 request that we provide information related to administrative law judge (ALJ) and hearing office performance. This report contains information related to
statistics of ALJ dispositions;
statistics of ALJ and hearing office processing times;
factors that affect ALJ and hearing office performance;
an identification and assessment of the management tools used by Office of Disability Adjudication and Review officials to oversee ALJ performance; and
management initiatives to support increases in ALJ productivity.
If you have any questions or would like to be briefed on this issue, please call me or have your staff contact Jonathan Lasher, Deputy Chief Counsel for External Relations, at (410) 965-7178.
Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr.
Hearing Office Performance
By conducting independent and objective audits, evaluations and investigations, we inspire public confidence in the integrity and security of SSA's programs and operations and protect them against fraud, waste and abuse. We provide timely, useful and reliable information and advice to Administration officials, Congress and the public.
The Inspector General Act created independent audit and investigative units, called the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The mission of the OIG, as spelled out in the Act, is to:
Conduct and supervise independent and objective audits and investigations
relating to agency programs and operations.
Promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency within the agency.
Prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in agency programs and operations.
Review and make recommendations regarding existing and proposed legislation and regulations relating to agency programs and operations.
Keep the agency head and the Congress fully and currently informed of problems in agency programs and operations.
To ensure objectivity, the IG Act empowers the IG with:
Independence to determine what reviews to perform.
Access to all information necessary for the reviews.
Authority to publish findings and recommendations based on the reviews.
We strive for continual improvement in SSA's programs, operations and management by proactively seeking new ways to prevent and deter fraud, waste and abuse. We commit to integrity and excellence by supporting an environment that provides a valuable public service while encouraging employee development and retention and fostering diversity and innovation.
The objective of our review was to address the requests of Congressmen Michael R. McNulty and Sam Johnson regarding administrative law judge (ALJ) and hearing office performance. Specifically, the Congressmen requested information on (1) factors that affect ALJ and hearing office performance, (2) Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) management tools, and (3) Social Security Administration (SSA) initiatives to increase ALJ productivity.
RESULTS OF REVIEW
SSA is facing the highest number of pending cases and highest average case processing times since the inception of the disability programs. As of April 2008, there were over 755,000 cases awaiting a decision at the hearings level. Further, Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 ALJ processing times averaged 505 days, as of April 2008. While the average number of cases processed per ALJ has increased from FY 2005 to FY 2007, some ALJs continue to process cases at levels below Agency expectations.
We interviewed the Chief ALJ, 9 Regional Chief ALJs, 143 ALJs, and 146 hearing office staff members to identify factors that may impact ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times. Specifically, at each of 49 hearing offices, we interviewed a lower or higher producing ALJ, the Hearing Office Chief ALJ, one additional mid producing ALJ, the Hearing Office Director, a Senior Attorney Advisor, and a Senior Case Technician. Our interviews disclosed that ALJs have varying levels of productivity (both high and low productivity) for internalized reasons, such as motivation and work ethic. However, we also identified factors that can impact ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times that are part of the case adjudication process. These factors relate to disability determination services (DDS) case development, staff levels, hearing dockets, favorable rates, individual ALJ preferences, and Agency processes. However, we did not determine whether these factors impacted the legal sufficiency of ALJs' dispositions as it was beyond the scope of this review.
Chief ALJs use management tools and practices to oversee ALJ performance. While SSA can take disciplinary actions against ALJs, the actions taken in the past 3 years have been primarily related to conduct rather than performance. However, there are actions pending against ALJs on issues related to performance.
SSA has undertaken 37 initiatives to eliminate the backlog and prevent its
recurrence. Many of these initiatives directly relate to the factors identified
during our interviews as impacting ALJ productivity and processing times. Specifically,
the announcement of a productivity expectation, hiring ALJs and staff, new automation,
remanding cases to DDSs, and quality assurance improvements will impact the
productivity and efficiency of ALJs and hearing offices.
Table of Contents
RESULTS OF REVIEW 2
Case Dispositions 2
Case Processing Times 3
Factors That Impact Productivity and Processing Times 3
Internal Factors 4
Disability Determinations Services 5
Hearing Dockets 7
Favorable Rates 8
Individual ALJ Preferences 9
Agency Processes 14
Management of ALJ Performance 17
Management Tools 17
Disciplinary Actions 18
Management Initiatives 18
Productivity Expectation 19
Hiring ALJs and Staff 19
New Automation: Electronic Folder 20
New Automation: ePulling 20
DDS Informal Remand Project 21
Quality Assurance 22
APPENDIX A - Acronyms
APPENDIX B - Scope and Methodology
APPENDIX C - Average Dispositions per Administrative Law Judge per Hearing Office by Fiscal Year
APPENDIX D - Factors That Impact Productivity
APPENDIX E - Administrative Law Judge Disciplinary Actions
APPENDIX F - Location of New Administrative Law Judges
APPENDIX G - Fiscal Year 2007 Daily Receipts and Pending Cases per Administrative Law Judge
APPENDIX H - Social Security Administration Initiatives
The objective of our review was to address the requests of Congressmen
Michael R. McNulty and Sam Johnson regarding administrative law judge (ALJ) and hearing office performance. Specifically, the Congressmen requested information on (1) factors that affect ALJ and hearing office performance, (2) Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) management tools, and (3) Social Security Administration (SSA) initiatives to increase ALJ productivity.
Under the leadership of SSA's Deputy Commissioner for ODAR, the Office of the Chief ALJ (OCALJ) is responsible for management oversight of SSA's national hearing operation. OCALJ has a workforce of over 6,000, including over 1,100 ALJs. With 10 regional offices led by Regional Chief ALJs (RCALJ) and over 140 hearing offices led by Hearing Office Chief ALJs (HOCALJ), SSA's hearing operation conducts due process hearings and issues decisions on appealed determinations involving Retirement, Survivors, Disability, and Supplemental Security Income. With over 500,000 decisions issued each year, ODAR is considered one of the largest administrative judicial systems in the world.
SSA's disability programs have grown significantly over the last 5 years and will continue to do so at an increasing rate as aging baby boomers reach their most disability-prone years. As a result, backlogs of disability cases have formed, particularly at the ALJ hearing level. The number of cases awaiting a decision from an ALJ has risen from over 463,000 at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 to over 755,000 at the end of April 2008.
In a December 18, 2007 letter, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House
of Representatives' Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security,
requested the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) review factors related to
ALJ and hearing office performance. Specifically, the Congressmen requested
(1) ALJ case disposition statistics, (2) ALJ and hearing office processing time
statistics, (3) specific reasons disposition numbers and processing times vary
among ALJs, (4) an identification and assessment of management tools used to
oversee ALJ performance, including disciplinary actions against ALJs, and (5)
management initiatives SSA has taken or intends to take to support increases
in ALJ productivity. See Appendix B for the Scope and Methodology of our review.
Results of Review
This review presents statistics on ALJ and hearing office dispositions and processing times. Further, we present various factors that can impact hearing office and ALJ productivity and processing times. We also present information on the management tools ODAR uses to oversee ALJ performance along with recent disciplinary actions taken against ALJs. Finally, we present the status of initiatives SSA has in-process or planned to help reduce the backlog of disability cases and prevent its recurrence.
Dispositions Issued in FY 2007
Number of Cases Number of ALJs
100 or Fewer 48
More than 1,000 17
The average number of case dispositions issued per ALJ increased 13 percent
from FY 2005 to FY 2007 (see Appendix C, page C-5 for dispositions per ALJ in
FYs 2005 through 2007). Specifically, in FY 2005, ALJs issued an average of
421 dispositions each, while in FY 2007, ALJs issued an average of 474 dispositions
each. According to the Commissioner of Social Security, for most of this decade,
SSA has created rules and incentives focused solely on the most prominent metric
for measuring the backlog - total cases pending. Therefore, ALJs have been focused
on issuing more dispositions each year to reduce the backlog. ODAR issued 547,951
dispositions in FY 2007. These dispositions were issued by 1,155 ALJs. These
ALJs issued case dispositions ranging from a low of 1 per year to a high of
2,592 per year (see Table 1).
CASE PROCESSING TIMES
FY 2007 Average Processing Time by ALJ
Processing Time (Days) Number of ALJs
100 or Fewer 1
More than 1,000 2
Average times for case processing have increased 16 percent from 443 days in FY 2005 to 512 days in FY 2007 (see Appendix C, Page C-5 for average processing times during FYs 2005 through 2007). SSA attributes the increased processing times to increased hearing requests and insufficient resources. In FY 2007, the average processing time for individual ALJs ranged from a low of 63 days to a high of 1,220 days (see Table 2).
Of ODAR's 141 hearing offices, there were 22 hearing offices (16 percent) with average processing times that exceeded the national average of 512 days by 100 days or more in FY 2007 (see Appendix C for average processing times of all hearing offices). ODAR ranked 15 (68 percent) of these 22 hearing offices in the lower half of all hearing offices for dispositions issued per ALJ per day in FY 2007, meaning that these offices had lower productivity as compared to other hearing offices in the nation.
FACTORS THAT IMPACT PRODUCTIVITY AND PROCESSING TIMES
There are factors that can impact the number of dispositions ALJs and hearing offices issue. For example, of the 1,155 ALJs who issued dispositions in FY 2007, 95 ALJs issued fewer than 200 dispositions (see Table 1 on page 2 of this report). Of these 95 ALJs, 1 was the Deputy Chief ALJ and 5 were RCALJs who perform management functions in addition to case adjudication; 13 were part-time, new, or on extended leave; and 54 retired, separated, resigned, or died. The remaining 22 ALJs were full-time and worked during all of FY 2007. We interviewed 21 of these 22 ALJs to identify possible factors that may have impacted their productivity. To ensure we interviewed ALJs in each of ODAR's 10 regions, we also interviewed 8 additional ALJs who were among the lowest producers in their region. These 8 ALJs issued between 206 and 386 dispositions in FY 2007.
In addition to the 29 lower producing ALJs, we also interviewed 31 higher producing ALJs. Specifically, we interviewed 21 ALJs who were the highest producers in FY 2007. These ALJs issued between 974 and 2,592 dispositions in FY 2007. To ensure ALJs were interviewed in each of ODAR's regions, we interviewed 10 ALJs that were among the highest producers in their region. These ALJs issued between 702 and 928 dispositions in FY 2007.
Finally, we interviewed the Chief ALJ, 9 RCALJs, 48 mid-producing ALJs, and 146 hearing office staff. Specifically, at each of 49 hearing offices where we interviewed either a lower or higher producing ALJ, we interviewed the HOCALJ, one additional mid producing ALJ, the Hearing Office Director, a Senior Attorney Advisor, and a Senior Case Technician. ,
Our interviews disclosed that some ALJs had varying levels of productivity (both high and low) for internalized reasons, such as motivation and work ethic. However, we also identified factors that can impact ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times that are part of the case adjudication process. These factors relate to DDS, staff, hearing dockets, favorable rates, individual ALJ preferences, and Agency processes. However, we did not determine whether these factors impacted the legal sufficiency of ALJs' dispositions as it was beyond the scope of this review.
Our interviews disclosed that ALJs have varying levels of productivity due to factors such as motivation and work ethic. In fact, our interviews with RCALJs disclosed that motivation and work ethic were one of the main factors that contributed to higher or lower productivity. In fact, one RCALJ we interviewed stated a lower producing ALJ was not motivated to process more cases despite oral and written counseling, written directives, and reprimands. SSA is currently taking action to suspend this ALJ. However, given that these factors are internal to individual ALJs, we could not easily measure the impact motivation and work ethic had on ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times.
Disability Determination Services
ALJs and Hearing Office staff at all levels stated DDS allowance rates and the quality of case development from DDSs can impact ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times. For example, hearing offices likely have more requests for hearing if they are located in states with DDSs that deny more initial claims. As a result, ALJs in these hearing offices may have higher favorable rates. Further, the length of time ALJs spend reviewing cases prior to a hearing may be impacted by the extent that the DDS developed the case. Despite the comments from ALJs and hearing office staff, we did not have data to evaluate the extent that the practices of individual DDSs had on the performance of ALJs and hearing offices.
ALJs are supported by hearing office staff who conduct initial case screening and preparation, maintain a control system for all hearing office cases, conduct pre-hearing case analysis, develop additional evidence, schedule hearings, and prepare notices and decisions for claimants. Based on our interviews and analysis, it appears that support staff ratios may be one factor that impacts ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times.
When comparing the staff ratios of the 49 hearing offices where we conducted interviews to the FY 2007 ODAR national average staff ratio of 4.46 staff members per ALJ, we found that the higher producing ALJs were more likely to be located at hearing offices with staff ratios above the national average. Specifically,
16 (52 percent) of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed were located
at hearing offices with staff ratios above the national average and
5 (17 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed were located at hearing offices with staff ratios above the national average.
Our interviews with hearing office staff also identified staffing levels as a factor that impacts ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times. In fact, all 48 of the Hearing Office Directors we interviewed stated that staff ratios had a significant impact on productivity and processing times. Further, hearing office staff in 39 of the 49 offices where we conducted interviews stated that additional staff was needed.
When comparing the staff ratios of all 141 hearing offices to the FY 2007 ODAR national average staff ratio of 4.46, we found that the hearing offices that ODAR ranked in the top half for productivity were much more likely to exceed the national average staff ratio than hearing offices ranked in the lower half for productivity. Specifically,
63 percent of the hearing offices ranked in the top half for productivity had
a staff ratio greater than 4.46 and
38 percent of the hearing offices ranked in the lower half for productivity had a staff ratio greater than 4.46.
The number of staff needed to fully support an ALJ will be impacted by the various management initiatives SSA has planned to reduce the disability backlog (see page 18 of this report for a discussion of these initiatives). Further, our interviews disclosed that, in addition to an adequate number of staff, the quality and composition of the staff can also impact productivity. For example, an office may have an ideal staff ratio, but if it does not have enough writers to prepare decisions or if the writers do not prepare quality decisions, the hearing office's productivity may be impacted negatively.
An ALJ's docket refers to the number of hearings an ALJ has scheduled during a given timeframe. ALJs inform hearing office staff of the number of hearings they want scheduled during a month along with the specific days and times to schedule the hearings. The requested number of hearings is typically provided to the staff about 3 months in advance so they can identify the cases that are ready for hearings.
FY 2007 Staff Ratios in Hearing Offices Where ALJs Report Inability to Fill Hearing Dockets
Hearing Office Region Staff Ratio
Charlotte 4 4.26
Denver 8 4.49
Houston 6 4.29
Kansas City 7 4.20
Oklahoma City 6 3.52
Pasadena 9 3.63
Portland 10 3.73
San Diego 9 3.91
Our interviews disclosed that 16 (55 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs sometimes did not have as many hearings scheduled as they had requested. Further, 11 of these 16 lower producing ALJs (39 percent of the 29 lower producing ALJs interviewed) stated that this was a regular occurrence (see Appendix D, Table 1). Eight of these 11 ALJs were located in offices where we interviewed other ALJs who expressed the same concern. The hearing offices listed in Table 3 had at least two ALJs inform us that they regularly did not have as many hearings scheduled as they had requested.
During our interviews, ALJs stated the main reason not enough hearings were scheduled was because of insufficient support staff to prepare cases. Our analysis of staff ratios confirmed the lack of support staff may have impacted the ability of these eight hearing offices to schedule as many hearings as the ALJs requested. Specifically, in FY 2007, seven of these eight offices had staff ratios less than the 4.46 national average (see Table 3).
Only 7 (23 percent) of the 31 higher producing ALJs stated they regularly did not have as many hearings scheduled as they requested (see Appendix D, Table 2). However, only three of these seven ALJs were located in offices where we interviewed other ALJs who expressed this concern (Fort Wayne, Indiana; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma). These three ALJs also stated that the main reason enough hearings were not scheduled was because of insufficient support staff to prepare cases. In fact, the staff ratios for the Knoxville and Oklahoma City Hearing Offices were below the 4.46 national average.
Our interviews with Hearing Office Directors and Senior Case Technicians also identified that there were times when ALJs did not have as many hearings scheduled as requested. In fact, 27 of the 48 Hearing Office Directors and 31 of the 49 Senior Case Technicians we interviewed stated this concern. Further, 22 of these individuals stated this was a regular occurrence. Like the ALJs, the Hearing Office Directors and Senior Case Technicians stated the main reason not enough hearings were scheduled was because of insufficient support staff to prepare cases.
Our analysis found that higher producing ALJs had higher favorable rates than lower producing ALJs. Specifically, the higher producing ALJs we interviewed had an average favorable rate of 72 percent whereas the lower producing ALJs we interviewed had an average favorable rate of 55 percent (see Table 4).
Our comparison of the favorable rates of the ALJs we interviewed to the FY 2007 ODAR national average favorable rate of 62 percent found that the higher producing ALJs were the most significant contributors to ODAR's favorable rate. Specifically,
20 (65 percent) of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed had favorable
rates above the national average and
9 (31 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed had favorable rates above the national average (see Table 4).
FY 2007 Percentages of Favorable and On-the-Record Decisions for Higher and Lower Producing ALJs Interviewed
ALJ Production Level Average Favorable Rate Percent of ALJs with Favorable Rate 62 Percent or Higher Percent of On-the-Record Decisions
Higher 71.50 64.52 34.97
Lower 54.73 31.03 11.21
The higher producing ALJs achieved a higher favorable rate through on-the-record (OTR) decisions. In fact, the higher producing ALJs had an average OTR rate of 35 percent while the lower producing ALJs had an average OTR rate of 11 percent (see Table 4). Cases that are decided OTR take less time because the decision should be more obvious and does not require a hearing.
Higher producing ALJs issued more OTR decisions because they were more proactive in screening cases for OTR decisions than were lower producing ALJs. ODAR management encourages ALJs to screen cases, which involves reviewing cases where the files have not been worked up to determine whether an OTR decision can be made. Of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed, 20 (65 percent) stated they regularly screen cases to identify OTR decisions. However, only 10 (34 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed stated they regularly perform this screening.
Individual ALJ Preferences
During our interviews, the ALJs expressed individual preferences for processing cases. We found that ALJs with certain preferences were more likely to be higher producing, which can impact hearing office performance. These preferences include the amount of time spent reviewing cases, the number of hearings scheduled, scheduling hearings before case work-up, the length of hearings, the length of time to make decisions, use of bench decisions, use of rocket dockets, and amount of edits to decision drafts.
Time Spent Reviewing Cases
ALJs review cases before holding hearings to determine the need for expert opinions or additional evidence and become familiar with the case facts. Our interviews disclosed that 30 of the 31 higher producing ALJs spent an average of 1 hour or less to review a case. However, 22 of the 29 lower producing ALJs took more than 1 hour (see Appendix D, Table 1), with 7 (24 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs taking from 3 to 8 hours. Of the 48 mid producing ALJs we interviewed, 44 took up to 2 hours to review a case before the hearing. Therefore, the amount of time the lower producing ALJs spent reviewing cases was a contributing factor for fewer dispositions.
Number of Hearings Scheduled
ALJs inform hearing office staff of the number of hearings they would like
to hold in a given timeframe. We found that higher producing ALJs requested
more hearings to be scheduled. Specifically, the higher producing ALJs we interviewed
requested between 10 and 50 hearings per week. However, the lower producing
ALJs requested between 2 and 30 hearings per week (see Table 5).
Number of Hearings Requested per Week by Higher and Lower Producing ALJs Interviewed
Number of Hearings Requested per Week Number of Higher Producing ALJs Number of Lower Producing ALJs
1-4 0 3
5-9 0 8
10-14 7 7
15-19 9 4
20-24 4 1
25-29 3 2
30-34 3 1
35-39 2 0
40-44 0 0
45-49 2 0
Total33, 34 30 26
Of the 48 HOCALJs we interviewed, 41 expected each ALJ to schedule at least 10 to 20 hearings per week. All of the higher producing ALJs we interviewed met or exceeded the HOCALJs' expectations for the number of hearings per week. However, only 15 (52 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed met this expectation.
Interestingly, seven HOCALJs we interviewed who had lower producing ALJs did not have an expectation for the number of hearings each ALJ should schedule per week. One HOCALJ stated, "I cannot hold ALJs accountable for a certain number of hearings per week."
Scheduling Hearings Before Work Up
Based on our interviews, higher producing ALJs are more likely to schedule
hearings before the case files are worked up. Hearings must be scheduled at
least 20 days in advance because SSA policy requires the ALJ or hearing office
staff to send the notice of the scheduled hearing to the claimant at least 20
days before the hearing. Of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed, 22
(71 percent) will allow cases to be
scheduled for hearing before the case files are worked up. However, only 5 (17 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed will allow cases to be scheduled for hearing before the case files are worked up.
While ALJs would prefer to have case files worked up before hearings are scheduled, this practice can have a positive impact on ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times because hearings can be scheduled sooner. Further, once the hearings are scheduled, hearing office staff knows which cases to prepare for hearings. Also, scheduling cases for hearing before work-up could alleviate ALJs not conducting as many hearings because an insufficient number of cases were prepared.
Length of Hearings
Length of Hearings of Higher and Lower Producing ALJs Interviewed
Typical Length of Hearings Number of Higher Producing ALJs Number of Lower Producing ALJs
Less than 30 minutes 7 0
30 minutes - 1 hour 23 12
1 hour - 1.5 hours 0 15
1.5 - 2 hours 0 2
Total 30 29
Our interviews disclosed that higher producing ALJs held shorter hearings. The higher producing ALJs we interviewed stated that hearings typically lasted less than 1 hour. However, the lower producing ALJs we interviewed stated their hearings lasted from 30 minutes to over 1.5 hours (see Table 6). Of the 48 HOCALJs we interviewed,
33 (69 percent) expected hearings to last less than 1 hour. The ALJs who held shorter hearings could hold more hearings and had more time to review cases and prepare decisions.
Length of Time to Make Decisions
Our interviews disclosed that some ALJs had more difficulty making decisions on cases after the hearings than other ALJs, which increases case processing times. Of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed, 18 (58 percent) spent minimal time on cases after the hearing, typically taking less than 1 hour to review the case and make a decision. However, only 7 (24 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed made this statement. Further, 25 (52 percent) of the 48 mid-producing ALJs we interviewed stated they spent minimal time on cases after the hearing. One higher producing ALJ and 9 lower producing ALJs we interviewed stated they spent at least 1 hour on cases after the hearing, with 1 lower producing ALJ taking up to 10 hours to make decisions (see Appendix D). The ALJs who spent minimal time on cases after the hearing stated they reviewed the file carefully before the hearing and made notes during the hearing so they could quickly make a decision and write instructions to the decision writers.
ALJs can issue bench decisions when they have sufficient evidence to support a fully favorable decision at the hearing. ALJs who choose to make fully favorable decisions at hearings are required to include a prescribed checksheet in the administrative record. The checksheet sets forth the key data, findings of fact, and narrative rationale for the decision. The checksheet is entered as an exhibit in the record when the ALJ announces the fully favorable decision at the hearing. After the hearing, the ALJ issues a written notice of the oral decision that incorporates by reference the findings of fact and the reasons stated at the hearing. Bench decisions can be made on initial adult disability cases for Title II or XVI; claims for disability benefits as a disabled widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse; or claims for Title XVI benefits by a child under age 18.
Four (14 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed issued bench decisions in FY 2007 (ranging from 1 to 18 bench decisions during the year). However, 18 (58 percent) of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed issued bench
decisions (ranging from 1 to 421 bench decisions during the year). Five of the higher producing ALJs and six of the lower producing ALJs who preferred not to issue bench decisions stated that bench decisions do not save time and they believe it is faster to prepare instructions for a decision writer.
Our interviews disclosed that some ALJs who held rocket dockets had higher productivity. A rocket docket refers to scheduling several cases of unrepresented claimants at the same date and time for the same ALJ since these cases are likely to be dismissed or postponed. For example, since unrepresented claimants are typically less likely to appear at their hearings, rocket dockets allow ALJs to dismiss those cases more timely, thus reducing the number of cases waiting to be scheduled for hearing. The unrepresented claimants that do come to the hearing often decide during the hearing that they want representation. Rocket dockets allow ALJs to postpone these hearings for a later date once the claimant secures representation. ODAR does not provide national implementation instructions for rocket dockets. Rather, each hearing office uses rocket dockets according to their specific needs. One high producing HOCALJ we interviewed stated that rocket dockets were one of the main reasons the backlog in his hearing office was reduced. However, no data are maintained to indicate whether rocket dockets are effective in managing caseloads.
Amount of Time Editing Decisions
Decisions Requiring Substantial Edits by ALJs Interviewed
Percent of Decisions With Edits Number of Higher Producing ALJs Number of Mid- Producing ALJs Number of Lower Producing ALJs
None 3 5 1
1-25 26 30 12
26-50 1 7 3
51-75 0 4 5
76-100 0 1 7
Total 30 47 28
The amount of time ALJs spend editing decision drafts prepared by decision writers appeared to have an impact on productivity. Specifically, the lower producing ALJs we interviewed were more likely to have substantial edits to the decision drafts than the higher producing ALJs we interviewed. In fact, 12 (41 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed stated they had substantial edits to over 50 percent of the decision drafts prepared by the decision writers (see Table 7 and Appendix D, Table 1). Conversely, none of the higher producing ALJs had edits to more than 50 percent of their decisions (see Appendix D, Table 2).
The time ALJs spend editing draft decisions can take away from their time reviewing other case files and holding hearings. The extent of edits on decision drafts may be impacted by the individual ALJ's preferences for written decisions. For example, in one hearing office, we interviewed a higher and lower producing ALJ along with one mid producing ALJ who all used the same group of decision writers. According to our interviews, the lower producing ALJ had substantial edits on 95 percent of the decision drafts while the higher producing ALJ had substantial edits to less than 25 percent of decision drafts. The mid-producing ALJ in this office had substantial edits on between 25 and 50 percent of drafts. Obviously, these ALJs had differing levels of expectations for the decisions written in this office.
There are certain aspects of the hearing process that an ALJ and hearing office staff may not have as much control over but can impact ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times. These factors include the use of experts in hearings and postponements of hearings.
Use of Experts
SSA policy requires that ALJs review all the evidence before a hearing to determine whether a medical or vocational expert opinion is needed. ALJs must obtain the opinion by requesting the medical or vocational expert either testify at a hearing or provide answers to written interrogatories. ALJs are given the discretion to determine when to obtain a medical expert opinion unless one of the following applies, in which case ALJs are required to obtain a medical expert opinion.
The Appeals Council or Court orders a medical expert opinion.
The ALJ needs to evaluate and interpret background medical test data.
The ALJ is considering a finding that the claimant's impairment(s) medically equals a medical listing.
Although ALJs were given discretion on when to use medical experts in many cases, some ALJs used medical experts at nearly all their hearings. In fact, 6 (21 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed used medical experts in over half their hearings in FY 2007 (see Appendix D, Table 1), which likely resulted in longer hearings (see Table 8). However, only 2 (6 percent) of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed used medical experts in more than half their hearings (see Appendix D, Table 2).
As with medical experts, ALJs are required to obtain a vocational expert opinion when directed by the Appeals Council or Court. However, in all other circumstances, ALJs have the discretion to obtain a vocational expert opinion. All but one of the ALJs we interviewed used vocational experts in their hearings to some extent. In fact, 21 (72 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed used vocational experts in over half their hearings in FY 2007 (see Appendix D, Table 1), which likely resulted in longer hearings (see Table 8). However, only 10 (32 percent) of the 31 higher producing ALJs used vocational experts in more than half their hearings (see Appendix D, Table 2).
FY 2007 Expert Use in Hearings by ALJs Interviewed
Use of Medical Experts Use of Vocational Experts
Percent of Experts Used in Hearings Number of Higher Producing ALJs Number of Mid- Producing ALJs Number of Lower Producing ALJs Number of Higher Producing ALJs Number of Mid- Producing ALJs Number of Lowering Producing ALJs
None 4 3 6 0 0 1
1-25 25 32 14 12 10 3
26-50 0 7 3 9 6 4
51-75 2 5 3 8 22 16
76-100 0 1 3 2 10 5
Total 31 48 29 31 48 29
ALJs are required to postpone hearings if the claimant or their representative objects to the time and place of the hearing. Specific circumstances where an ALJ must postpone hearings include the following.
The claimant or representative objects to appearing by video teleconferencing.
The evidence supports one of the following
o The claimant or representative is unable to attend or travel to the scheduled hearing because of a physical or mental condition, incapacitating injury, or death in the family.
o If severe weather conditions make it impossible to travel to the hearing.
ALJs may postpone hearings under other circumstances if the claimant shows "good cause." In considering whether the claimant has shown "good cause," the ALJ must consider the reason for the requested postponement, the facts supporting the request, and the impact of the proposed postponement on the efficient administration of the hearing process. Examples of circumstances where an ALJ may postpone hearings if good cause is shown include the following.
The claimant attempted to obtain a representative but needs additional time;
The representative was appointed within 30 days of the scheduled hearing and needs additional time to prepare for the hearing;
The representative has a prior commitment in court or at another administrative hearing;
A witness is unable to attend the scheduled hearing, and the evidence cannot be otherwise obtained;
Transportation is not readily available to the claimant; and
The claimant is unrepresented and unable to respond to the notice of hearing due to a physical, mental, educational, or linguistic limitation.
Although most of the ALJs we interviewed stated that less than 25 percent of their hearings were postponed, we found that lower producing ALJs had more hearings postponed. In FY 2007, 15 (52 percent) of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed had 25 percent or more of their hearings postponed while only 10 (32 percent) of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed had 25 percent or more of their hearings postponed (see Appendix D).
Postponements of hearings can lead to lower productivity and higher processing times for ALJs and hearing offices. Postponements impact processing times because they add to the overall time the case is awaiting a decision. Further, postponements can impact productivity when offices or ALJs do not have cases ready to be processed in place of postponed cases. In October 2007, the Chief ALJ sent a letter to ALJs encouraging them to " hold hearings unless a good reason exists to cancel or postpone the hearing."
MANAGEMENT OF ALJ PERFORMANCE
Chief ALJs at all levels use management tools and practices to oversee ALJ performance. While SSA can take disciplinary actions against ALJs, the actions taken in the past 3 years have been primarily related to conduct rather than performance. However, there are actions pending against ALJs on issues related to performance.
The most prevalent tool used by management to oversee ALJs is ODAR's Case Processing
and Management System (CPMS). CPMS includes numerous reports that allow management
to identify for each ALJ the number and types of dispositions issued, the number
of cases pending, the number of cases that exceed benchmarks, the current status
of each case, processing times, etc. The RCALJs and HOCALJs we interviewed
speak individually with ALJs to address concerns resulting from their review of CPMS reports and offer assistance when needed. Further, the RCALJs and HOCALJs periodically meet with ALJs to discuss management initiatives and office goals.
HOCALJs monitor the performance of the ALJs in their offices but to varying degrees. Most of the HOCALJs we interviewed monitored the number of hearings each ALJ scheduled and will meet with ALJs who schedule fewer than the HOCALJ expects. In fact, five HOCALJs stated they actually approve the number of hearings ALJs schedule. It appears this practice is beneficial since ODAR ranked 4 of these 5 HOCALJs' offices in the top 30 hearing offices for productivity. However, less than half the HOCALJs we interviewed monitored the number of OTR decisions or bench decisions per ALJ, which are factors we identified as having an impact on productivity and processing times. The HOCALJs that do not perform this monitoring stated that it would intrude on an ALJ's decision-making process.
Interestingly, many of the hearing office staff we interviewed identified ALJ
and staff performance as an important case adjudication issue. Specifically,
the staff indicated they were supportive of performance accountability. In fact,
staff at 24 of the 49 offices where we conducted interviews stated that ALJs
and staff need to be held accountable for their performance.
The HOCALJs we interviewed acknowledged they can recommend disciplinary actions against ALJs to RCALJs. In turn, RCALJs can take limited actions, such as written counseling, but must recommend further disciplinary actions to the Chief ALJ. The Chief ALJ can reprimand ALJs, but more significant disciplinary actions, such as suspension and removal, typically must be approved by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).
Only a few HOCALJs indicated they would make recommendations for disciplinary actions based on performance issues, such as low productivity. Two HOCALJs and an RCALJ stated that taking disciplinary actions against ALJs for any reason is difficult and time-consuming. For example, one HOCALJ stated that it took 6 months to get a reprimand for an ALJ who used profanity toward hearing office staff.
SSA initiated 31 disciplinary actions against 30 ALJs from FY 2005 to June 2008 (see Appendix E). Most of these actions are primarily for conduct-related issues because SSA had not yet identified sufficient support to take actions against an ALJ for performance issues. However, two actions pending with the MSPB and one recent reprimand involve performance-related issues.
Further, Chief ALJs at all levels provided oral and written counseling to ALJs, but ODAR did not maintain centralized records documenting these actions. However, during our interviews, we learned of specific instances where RCALJs and HOCALJs provided counseling to ALJs for both conduct- and performance-related issues. Again, most of the counseling was provided to ALJs for conduct issues. However, RCALJs stated they were beginning to address performance issues more than they had in the past. One RCALJ stated that the current Chief ALJ has been more supportive of taking actions against ALJs for performance than were previous Chief ALJs.
In his testimony before Congress on May 23, 2007, the Commissioner outlined a four-pronged plan to eliminate the backlog and prevent its recurrence. The plan was based on
1. compassionate allowances,
2. improving performance,
3. increasing adjudicatory capacity, and
4. increasing efficiency with automation and business processes.
SSA has undertaken 37 initiatives to achieve each of the 4 aspects of the Commissioner's plan. Many of these initiatives directly relate to the factors identified during our interviews as impacting ALJ productivity and processing times. Specifically, the announcement of a productivity expectation, hiring ALJs and staff, new automation, remanding cases to DDSs, and quality assurance improvements will impact the productivity and efficiency of ALJs and hearing offices.
The most direct initiative to improve ALJ productivity was the Chief ALJ's request that ALJs issue between 500 and 700 dispositions per year. The Chief ALJ communicated this request to all ALJs in October 2007. As of April 2008, 49 percent of the ALJs were on track to meet this expectation in FY 2008.
Hiring ALJs and Staff
SSA was precluded from hiring ALJs because of an MSPB decision in 1999 that closed the ALJ register. Other than a one-time exception in September 2001, SSA was precluded from hiring ALJs until late 2003. When the register was closed, ODAR lost almost 200 ALJs through normal attrition.
SSA has increased efforts to hire ALJs. In FY 2007, SSA hired 4 ALJs from other agencies who all had prior SSA experience, 12 part-time senior ALJs, and 4 rehired annuitant (full-time) ALJs. In February 2008, SSA hired 133 new ALJs (see Appendix F). According to the Commissioner, the hearing offices where these ALJs will be located were based, in part, on the correlation between the number of incoming case receipts per ALJ and the number of cases pending. In fact, 69 percent of the hearing offices with both case receipts and cases pending per ALJ above the national averages received at least one new ALJ (see Appendix G). ODAR has authority to hire 56 additional ALJs, resulting in a total of 189 additional ALJs for FY 2008.
In addition to hiring ALJs, SSA must hire additional staff to support the ALJs. ODAR is filling 230 staff positions, which will include management and support staff. According to ODAR, the additional staff will be provided in phases as losses in the hearing offices occur throughout FY 2008. Staffing allocations will be made to balance staffing needs in each Region.
In Phase I, ODAR Regional Offices were allocated 92 hires for immediate selection.
In Phase II, SSA distributed an additional 138 hires for immediate selection to backfill management losses to ALJ ranks, fill vacant management positions, and balance staff to ALJ ratios. To allow for maximum flexibility, each Region has identified critical staffing needs and SSA will target these hearing offices.
The Commissioner has stated that the number of staff needed to support a disposition
will change as SSA fully implements initiatives to reduce the backlog, but that
number is difficult to project with any certainty. Automating many clerical
functions will reduce the amount of time staff spend on more routine tasks and
allow them to absorb additional
workloads. SSA is also working to standardize business processes, which should result in additional staff efficiencies. The Commissioner stated he will continue to monitor the appropriate staff to ALJ ratio as new processes are implemented.
New Automation: Electronic Folder
In FY 2007, ODAR transitioned from processing hearings using paper folders to processing hearings using electronic folders. According to SSA, ODAR began FY 2007 with 56,000 fully electronic folders. At the end of FY 2007, the volume of fully electronic folders had grown to over 400,000 cases and, as of March 2008, about 73 percent of ODAR's pending disability workload at the hearing level was electronic. Transition to the electronic folder involved training for hearing office employees, a learning curve associated with mastering a new process, working in a dual environment with paper and electronic folders, and a labor-intensive certification process that impacted all positions in the hearing office. At the same time, claimant representatives, vocational and medical experts, and hearing reporters were introduced to the electronic process.
ALJs stated that the electronic folder has slowed case processing. While some ALJs indicated the slowdown is a result of the learning curve associated with the electronic folder, other ALJs assert that processing cases with the electronic folder will always be slower than with paper files. Specifically, some ALJs stated that it is faster to page through a paper file than navigate through the screens and documents attached in the electronic folder. ODAR has confirmed that there are general intermittent systems performance issues, such as limited bandwidth causing periods of slow response times. However, because the problems are intermittent, documentation of these occurrences was not available from ODAR. Information was not available for us to determine the impact the electronic folder has had on case processing times.
New Automation: ePulling
Our interviews with ALJs disclosed that there had been times when they could not hold as many hearings as they would have liked because staff did not work up enough case files. SSA is attempting to address this issue with its ePulling initiative. The electronic folder containing case documents requires manual sorting, reordering, and data entry of information to support the hearing office's business process. The information must be manually examined and organized in a manner that is useful to those reviewing the cases and to the ALJs hearing the cases. The goal of the ePulling project is to help reduce hearing office backlogs by automating the case preparation process in the electronic folder.
The ePulling initiative involves the use of customized software that can identify, classify, and sort page level data, reorganize images after classification, and identify duplicates. The software is being refined and integrated with SSA's systems. A pilot of the software began in June 2008 in the Model Process Test Facility in Falls Church, Virginia. The pilot is being expanded to the Tupelo, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; Richmond, Virginia; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and St. Louis, Missouri, Hearing Offices and National Hearing Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Implementation of ePulling to all hearing offices is anticipated in FY 2009, depending on the performance of the software at the pilot locations.
ODAR estimates that it currently takes 3.5 hours to manually prepare an electronic
folder. However, ODAR estimates that with ePulling, it will take 2 hours to
prepare a folder, an average time savings of 1.5 hours per case. Even with ePulling,
staff is required to verify documents that the software flagged for manual review
because the software cannot extract data from handwritten documents. Additional
activities required by the staff include clarification of images, moving evidence
to the exhibit list as proposed exhibits for the hearing, developing the case
for any required medical evidence, arranging consultative exams, or other ALJ-requested
development. Staff will be responsible for preparation of case summaries and additional analysis for the ALJ. Staff will also continue to monitor for new electronic submissions of evidence throughout the process until disposition of the case.
DDS Informal Remand Project
SSA is attempting to increase ODAR's adjudicatory capacity and reduce paper case backlogs by having State DDSs review certain cases based on profiles established by OQP. Using these profiles, paper cases that have not been worked up by hearing office staff are screened and remanded back to a DDS to determine whether a favorable decision can be issued without a hearing.
Using overtime, DDSs review cases remanded by ODAR. If the DDS can make a fully favorable determination, cases will return to the SSA field office where adjudication will occur. If the claimant does not wish to pursue their request for hearing, ODAR will issue a dismissal on the claim. If the DDS is not able to make a fully favorable decision, the DDS will prepare the case for hearing and return the file to the hearing office. The hearing office will give these cases priority for scheduling the hearings.
According to SSA, in FY 2007, DDSs processed over 16,000 remands, 54 percent of which were favorable decisions. From October 2007 to April 2008, DDSs received over 28,000 remands, concentrated in the States with the largest backlogs of paper cases: New York, Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, and Ohio. DDSs have issued favorable determinations on 33 percent of these cases. At the end of April 2008, there were approximately 4,000 remands pending at DDSs.
The results of this initiative continue to be analyzed to determine which of the profiled cases resulted in the most favorable decisions. SSA has made the changes necessary to allow fully electronic cases to be remanded to DDSs. Ten states have begun to test the processing of electronic remands and some electronic cases were remanded to DDSs in the third quarter of FY 2008.
SSA intends to develop and implement a quality assurance program for the hearing process that will provide in line review of the claim file, the scheduling process, and decision drafting to ensure that hearing offices provide timely and legally sufficient hearings and decisions. The goals of the new quality assurance initiative are as follows.
1. Ensure all offices follow SSA policy.
2. Review selected cases before the hearing to ensure the process is in place to hold timely and legally sufficient hearings.
3. Review selected cases once a decision is drafted to ensure the decision and the case file support a timely and legally sufficient decision.
4. Provide feedback to management to make corrections in the processing of case files, to provide information for performance management, and to assist in identifying training needs.
5. Develop and maintain a standardized business process that ensures timely and legally sufficient hearings and decisions.
Regional Office personnel will be charged with the additional responsibility of overseeing the quality assurance program. This initiative will be rolled out in three phases: a review of Attorney Adjudicator decisions, a review of decision drafts, and a review of cases with a hearing scheduled but not yet held. Files will be reviewed for certain criteria and appropriate recommendations made to management for correction. Reports will be made and trends tracked for training purposes.
SSA is reviewing a sample of Senior Attorney Adjudicator decisions. According to SSA, the first sample included 111 cases taken from decisions issued in November 2007. Reviewers assessed the legal sufficiency of the written decisions and found that 95 percent were accurate. SSA is developing review sheets to capture data from the reviews and serve as a means to track the information for trends and possible training initiatives. SSA is also working on a formula for selecting cases for review.
SSA is facing the highest number of pending cases and highest average case processing times since the inception of the disability programs. As of April 2008, there were over 755,000 cases awaiting a decision at the hearings level. Further, FY 2008 ALJ processing times were averaging 505 days, as of April 2008. While the average number of cases processed per ALJ has increased from FY 2005 to FY 2007, some ALJs continue to process cases at levels below agency expectations.
Our review identified factors that can impact the performance and processing times of ALJs and hearing offices. Interviews with ALJs and hearing office staff disclosed the factors impacting productivity included internalized reasons, such as motivation and the personal work ethic of the ALJ. Further, there are other factors that impact ALJ and hearing office productivity and processing times, such as DDS case development, support staff ratios, the hearing offices' ability to fill ALJ hearing dockets, and individual ALJ preferences for processing cases. The Agency certainly needs to continue to look at these factors and take actions to address those within their power.
The Commissioner of Social Security has been proactive in developing a plan
to improve many parts of the hearings process from employee performance to improvements
in processes. For example, ALJs have been given an expectation to produce 500
to 700 cases per year. Further, initiatives are in process or planned for improving
automation within the hearings process. Finally, the Agency is taking a more
concerted approach to addressing performance problems through disciplinary actions.
ALJ Administrative Law Judge
ARPS Appeals Review Processing System
C.F.R. Code of Federal Regulations
CPMS Case Processing and Management System
DCO Deputy Commissioner of Operations
DDS Disability Determination Services
ERE Electronic Records Express
FIT Findings Integrated Templates
FY Fiscal Year
HALLEX Hearings, Appeals, and Litigation Law Manual
HOCALJ Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge
MSPB Merit Systems Protection Board
NHC National Hearing Center
OCALJ Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge
ODAR Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
OIG Office of the Inspector General
OQP Office of Quality Performance
RCALJ Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge
SSA Social Security Administration
U.S.C. United States Code
Scope and Methodology
To answer the Congressmen's questions related to administrative law judge (ALJ) and hearing office performance, we:
Reviewed applicable Federal laws and regulations and pertinent parts of the Hearings, Appeals, and Litigation Law Manual related to ALJ hearings.
Reviewed prior Office of the Inspector General, Government Accountability Office, and Social Security Advisory Board reports related to the ALJ hearings process.
Reviewed Social Security Administration (SSA) status reports to gain an understanding of initiatives to eliminate the backlog and prevent its recurrence.
Obtained data extracts from the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review's (ODAR) Case Processing and Management System of 519,359 dispositions issued by ALJs in Fiscal Year (FY) 2005; 558,978 dispositions issued by ALJs in FY 2006; and 547,951 dispositions issued by ALJs in FY 2007.
Interviewed the Chief ALJ in ODAR's Office of the Chief ALJ (OCALJ).
Interviewed the permanent or acting Regional Chief ALJs in all 10 ODAR regions.
Interviewed 143 ALJs and 146 staff members at 49 hearing offices nationwide.
o We interviewed 29 ALJs who were considered lower producing ALJs. Specifically, we selected 21 ALJs who were the lowest producers in FY 2007. These ALJs issued between 4 and 195 dispositions in FY 2007. In addition, to ensure ALJs were interviewed in each of ODAR's 10 regions, we selected 8 ALJs that were among the lowest producers in their region. These ALJs issued between 206 and 386 dispositions in FY 2007.
o We interviewed 31 ALJs who were considered higher producing ALJs. Specifically,
we selected 21 ALJs who were the highest producers in FY 2007. These ALJs issued
between 974 and 2,592 dispositions in FY 2007. In addition, to ensure ALJs were
interviewed in each of ODAR's regions, we selected 10 ALJs that were among the
highest producers in their region. These ALJs issued between 702 and 928 dispositions
in FY 2007.
o We interviewed 48 additional mid-producing ALJs. Specifically, we selected an ALJ who was neither the highest nor lowest producing ALJ at each hearing office we visited. These ALJs issued between 259 and 664 dispositions in FY 2007.
o We interviewed the Hearing Office Chief ALJs (HOCALJ) at 48 of the hearing offices we visited. We interviewed 35 HOCALJs that were not identified as higher producing ALJs and 13 HOCALJs that were identified as higher producing.
o We interviewed 146 hearing office staff members at the offices we visited. Specifically, we interviewed 48 Hearing Office Directors, 49 Senior Attorney Advisors, and 49 Senior Case Technicians.
The entity reviewed was OCALJ in ODAR. Our work was conducted at the Office of Audit in Kansas City, Missouri; ODAR in Falls Church, Virginia; ODAR's 10 Regional Offices; and various hearing offices nationwide during January through April 2008. We conducted our review in accordance with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency's Quality Standards for Inspections.
Average Dispositions per Administrative Law Judge per Hearing Office by Fiscal Year
Hearing Office Fiscal Year 2005 Fiscal Year 2006 Fiscal Year 2007
Number of Dispositions Number of ALJs Dispositions per ALJ Processing Time (Days) Number of Dispositions Number of ALJs Dispositions per ALJ Processing Time (Days) Number of Dispositions Number of ALJs Dispositions per ALJ Processing Time (Days)
Albany, NY 3,640 6 607 335 3,209 6 535 398 3,034 6 506 483
Albuquerque, NM 5,738 11 522 383 6,480 12 540 492 5,887 10 589 525
Alexandria, LA 4,975 9 553 418 5,279 10 528 431 5,207 10 521 512
Atlanta, GA 3,547 11 322 686 3,502 12 292 791 4,334 13 333 900
Atlanta, GA (North) 3,452 11 314 532 4,152 12 346 655 4,470 12 373 751
Baltimore, MD 5,228 11 475 347 5,671 11 516 449 5,478 11 498 520
Billings, MT 2,570 7 367 386 2,845 6 474 402 2,462 5 492 417
Birmingham, AL 8,315 16 520 456 7,891 17 464 499 8,241 15 549 557
Boston, MA 4,766 13 367 418 5,591 13 430 442 5,509 13 424 376
Bronx, NY 3,367 7 481 636 3,533 7 505 572 4,145 7 592 594
Brooklyn, NY 4,927 12 411 554 5,457 11 496 548 6,052 11 550 506
Buffalo, NY 4,503 13 346 655 4,535 13 349 623 5,073 13 390 670
Centralized Screening Unit 2,716 2 1,358 102 952 3 317 154 81 1 81 367
Charleston, SC 4,123 9 458 365 4,571 9 508 431 4,146 7 592 476
Charleston, WV 4,770 11 434 328 4,898 10 490 384 4,400 8 550 311
Charlotte, NC 3,654 9 406 499 3,905 10 391 548 4,633 11 421 627
Charlottesville, VA 2,966 7 424 348 3,501 6 584 385 2,789 6 465 334
Chattanooga, TN 3,924 11 357 341 4,294 11 390 418 4,657 10 466 428
Chicago, IL 4,015 11 365 523 4,372 12 364 516 4,351 12 363 563
Cincinnati, OH 4,998 12 417 519 5,224 10 522 542 4,642 10 464 600
Cleveland, OH 4,897 18 272 616 5,298 15 353 584 5,284 12 440 599
Colorado Springs, CO 3,170 5 634 496 2,949 5 590 492 2,825 5 565 480
Columbia, SC 3,997 9 444 465 3,882 9 431 508 4,396 9 488 527
Columbus, OH 3,741 10 374 603 4,456 11 405 674 3,930 11 357 774
Creve Coeur, MO 7,360 11 669 334 7,030 11 639 344 5,768 10 577 404
Dallas, TX (Downtown) 5,402 13 416 361 5,633 11 512 411 6,122 12 510 462
Dallas, TX (North) 5,331 14 381 488 6,034 14 431 537 5,616 13 432 605
Dayton, OH 3,071 7 439 507 3,064 7 438 599 2,828 6 471 677
Denver, CO 5,868 13 451 400 5,504 10 550 428 4,711 11 428 467
Detroit, MI 4,188 10 419 609 3,866 10 387 625 5,342 11 486 632
Dover, DE 1,800 5 360 311 1,989 5 398 458 1,641 4 410 479
Downey, CA 1,732 5 346 441 2,217 6 370 517 2,040 5 408 469
Elkins Park, PA 5,820 12 485 345 6,062 12 505 413 4,891 11 445 426
Eugene, OR 2,657 7 380 504 3,350 6 558 507 3,075 6 513 485
Evanston, IL 3,931 10 393 487 4,497 11 409 472 3,878 11 353 418
Evansville, IN 2,660 6 443 397 2,014 4 504 446 2,153 4 538 567
Fargo, ND 2,571 6 429 381 2,717 6 453 397 2,321 6 387 434
Flint, MI 3,147 6 525 599 3,344 6 557 625 3,967 6 661 668
Florence, AL 4,346 8 543 440 3,764 7 538 419 3,937 7 562 423
Fort Lauderdale, FL 4,978 13 383 507 5,112 14 365 448 4,852 12 404 431
Fort Smith, AR 2,034 5 407 323 2,600 6 433 404 2,878 5 576 412
Fort Wayne, IN 3,646 7 521 556 4,001 7 572 636 4,034 7 576 640
Fort Worth, TX 4,040 8 505 387 4,495 8 562 449 4,351 8 544 429
Fresno, CA 2,378 9 264 442 3,717 9 413 519 3,221 7 460 494
Grand Rapids, MI 3,539 9 393 458 4,019 7 574 562 3,900 7 557 674
Greensboro, NC 4,236 9 471 460 4,833 10 483 539 5,017 10 502 605
Greenville, SC 4,163 8 520 455 4,490 9 499 488 4,527 10 453 571
Harrisburg, PA 5,640 7 806 315 5,722 7 817 299 5,229 7 747 265
Hartford, CT 2,240 6 373 414 2,352 5 470 487 2,133 4 533 461
Hattiesburg, MS 3,752 9 417 444 3,783 9 420 477 3,267 6 545 447
Honolulu, HI 619 1 619 266 586 1 586 339 639 2 319 421
Houston, TX (Bissonnett) 4,314 11 392 437 5,074 12 423 521 5,262 11 478 564
Houston, TX (Downtown) 3,300 7 471 439 3,690 7 527 489 4,184 9 465 477
Huntington, WV 3,681 7 526 367 4,103 7 586 403 4,228 7 604 389
Indianapolis, IN 5,534 13 426 483 5,131 13 395 546 4,996 12 416 714
Jackson, MS 3,480 10 348 619 3,579 8 447 581 3,708 7 530 641
Jacksonville, FL 4,993 13 384 562 5,813 13 447 564 5,922 14 423 557
Jericho, NY 4,630 8 579 368 4,556 8 570 402 3,548 8 444 458
Johnstown, PA 3,185 8 398 354 3,590 8 449 422 3,394 7 485 408
Kansas City, KS 3,288 11 299 485 4,224 13 325 536 4,305 13 331 637
Kingsport, TN 4,247 7 607 285 5,019 8 627 331 4,869 8 609 358
Knoxville, TN 3,599 10 360 424 4,458 9 495 465 4,412 9 490 499
Lansing, MI 2,720 7 389 548 2,995 7 428 626 3,180 7 454 696
Las Vegas, NV 1,473 3 491 423 1,482 3 494 514 1,458 3 486 491
Lexington, KY 4,333 10 433 393 4,427 10 443 439 4,571 10 457 464
Little Rock, AR 6,294 14 450 448 6,781 12 565 464 6,692 12 558 486
Long Beach, CA 2,452 6 409 399 3,004 6 501 424 2,443 5 489 378
Los Angeles, CA (Downtown) 2,266 7 324 376 3,220 6 537 456 2,725 6 454 426
Los Angeles, CA (West) 3,401 9 378 396 3,900 9 433 459 3,895 9 433 498
Louisville, KY 3,741 7 534 340 3,943 7 563 386 3,940 8 493 397
Macon, GA 3,872 7 553 476 3,583 6 597 442 3,906 8 488 451
Madison, WI 838 2 419 477 945 2 473 547 1,014 2 507 610
Manchester, NH 2,605 7 372 403 3,130 6 522 416 2,886 6 481 388
Mayaguez, PR 1,210 2 605 553 730 3 243 653 990 1 990 686
McAlester, OK 1,008 3 336 333 1,584 4 396 496 1,021 3 340 465
Memphis, TN 5,185 10 519 373 5,041 9 560 410 4,509 10 451 444
Metairie, LA 3,844 7 549 423 1,022 4 256 525 2,469 2 1,235 554
Miami, FL 2,502 10 250 667 2,732 11 248 773 3,052 11 277 741
Middlesboro, KY 2,301 5 460 373 2,624 5 525 338 2,411 4 603 291
Milwaukee, WI 4,373 14 312 528 5,689 14 406 594 5,805 13 447 601
Minneapolis, MN 5,054 11 459 460 5,586 12 466 506 5,767 11 524 531
Mobile, AL 4,814 13 370 410 5,955 13 458 475 5,857 11 532 478
Montgomery, AL 4,362 8 545 405 4,140 8 518 451 3,871 7 553 527
Morgantown, WV 3,395 6 566 314 3,107 6 518 320 3,071 5 614 357
Nashville, TN 5,141 10 514 544 4,207 9 467 495 4,389 9 488 524
New Haven, CT 1,670 6 278 476 2,237 6 373 501 2,130 6 355 432
New Orleans, LA 3,093 9 344 348 2,750 6 458 506 3,380 5 676 514
New York, NY 5,510 12 459 497 7,145 12 595 420 6,383 11 580 395
Newark, NJ 4,379 10 438 415 5,065 12 422 459 4,668 10 467 492
Norfolk, VA 2,810 6 468 352 3,331 6 555 409 2,890 6 482 358
Oak Brook, IL 2,243 9 249 539 3,616 10 362 547 3,974 9 442 609
Oak Park, MI 5,435 11 494 558 5,319 10 532 606 5,013 10 501 655
Oakland, CA 2,344 8 293 438 2,600 8 325 512 2,681 8 335 492
Oklahoma City, OK 4,329 11 394 449 4,296 13 330 482 5,188 12 432 443
Omaha, NE 2,241 5 448 377 2,551 5 510 456 2,555 5 511 536
Orange, CA 2,507 8 313 410 2,434 5 487 434 2,200 5 440 438
Orland Park, IL 3,058 10 306 362 4,511 8 564 405 4,238 7 605 542
Orlando, FL 7,026 16 439 479 7,322 14 523 450 6,633 12 553 423
Paducah, KY 2,275 6 379 325 2,887 6 481 403 2,678 5 536 430
Pasadena, CA 1,858 8 232 433 2,198 8 275 515 2,266 8 283 548
Peoria, IL 2,973 8 372 529 2,934 9 326 503 3,244 8 406 603
Philadelphia, PA 3,458 9 384 402 3,974 9 442 437 3,488 8 436 408
Philadelphia-E, PA 4,704 9 523 351 4,697 9 522 458 4,292 9 477 481
Phoenix, AZ 2,659 8 332 454 3,617 9 402 510 4,141 10 414 492
Pittsburgh, PA 5,667 14 405 434 6,441 14 460 540 7,236 14 517 557
Ponce, PR 864 1 864 487 1,058 2 529 535 940 2 470 500
Portland, ME 2,303 6 384 352 2,501 8 313 429 2,493 6 416 409
Portland, OR 3,515 9 391 501 3,882 10 388 527 3,791 10 379 633
Providence, RI 2,693 6 449 437 2,965 6 494 423 2,889 7 413 419
Queens, NY 2,513 8 314 662 2,823 7 403 681 3,093 6 516 632
Raleigh, NC 5,540 11 504 559 5,336 12 445 516 5,792 13 446 498
Richmond, VA 2,500 6 417 390 2,094 5 419 445 1,729 4 432 427
Regional Offices 10 1 20 1 133 1
Roanoke, VA 3,396 9 377 442 4,224 9 469 441 3,430 8 429 375
Sacramento, CA 5,749 13 442 373 5,763 12 480 472 4,833 10 483 489
Salt Lake City, UT 3,264 7 466 424 3,542 7 506 434 3,367 8 421 447
San Antonio, TX 6,179 18 343 497 7,110 18 395 527 6,916 17 407 537
San Bernardino, CA 3,085 9 343 363 3,849 8 481 468 3,544 8 443 475
San Diego, CA 3,587 10 359 384 4,378 10 438 452 3,096 9 344 522
San Francisco, CA 2,053 6 342 429 2,639 7 377 547 2,832 7 405 611
San Jose, CA 2,803 6 467 327 2,517 5 503 395 1,977 4 494 509
San Juan, PR 4,291 11 390 575 4,785 10 479 630 5,000 9 556 618
San Rafael, CA 1,382 5 276 361 1,807 5 361 508 1,875 6 313 641
Santa Barbara, CA 1,177 3 392 455 1,242 3 414 459 1,086 3 362 477
Savannah, GA 3,023 6 504 461 4,242 8 530 556 4,406 8 551 567
Seattle, WA 6,466 15 431 586 7,131 16 446 565 6,538 15 436 584
Shreveport, LA 3,474 8 434 396 3,565 7 509 425 3,355 6 559 423
Spokane, WA 3,086 7 441 460 3,495 7 499 499 3,755 7 536 525
Springfield, MA 1,996 7 285 345 3,190 7 456 326 2,757 6 460 354
Springfield, MO 2,519 6 420 399 2,528 6 421 428 2,203 6 367 534
St. Louis, MO 4,904 9 545 386 4,759 9 529 439 5,247 9 583 514
Stockton, CA 2,660 6 443 389 2,795 6 466 416 3,264 6 544 460
Syracuse, NY 3,665 11 333 394 3,836 10 384 374 3,965 11 360 488
Tampa, FL 7,546 18 419 522 7,558 16 472 577 7,717 15 514 633
Tucson, AZ 2,569 5 514 362 3,154 6 526 429 2,862 5 572 430
Tulsa, OK 4,520 9 502 353 4,538 8 567 462 4,101 7 586 456
Tupelo, MS 3,287 7 470 456 3,069 7 438 476 3,568 7 510 409
Voorhees, NJ 3,257 7 465 445 3,352 7 479 417 2,975 6 496 468
Washington, D.C. 3,044 7 435 401 3,517 7 502 458 2,798 6 466 417
West Des Moines, IA 2,970 7 424 487 3,320 7 474 457 2,570 6 428 537
White Plains, NY 2,901 8 363 490 3,118 7 445 421 3,008 6 501 412
Wichita, KS 2,163 4 541 381 2,079 5 416 437 3,060 5 612 506
Wilkes-Barre, PA 3,583 10 358 366 4,966 10 497 463 4,594 8 574 434
National 519,359 1,233 421 443 558,978 1,217 459 483 547,951 1,155 474 512
Factors That Impact Productivity
Our interviews with administrative law judges (ALJ) and hearing office staff disclosed factors that may impact ALJ productivity. Table 1 below shows these factors and the number of the 29 lower producing ALJs we interviewed who may have been impacted by each factor. Table 2 on page D-3 shows these factors and the number of the 31 higher producing ALJs we interviewed who may have been impacted by each factor.
Factors That May Have Impacted Productivity of Lower Producing ALJs Interviewed
Individual ALJ Preferences Agency Processes
Lower Producing ALJs Interviewed Located at Hearing Office with Staff Ratio Below National Average Hearing Office Regularly Unable to Fill Hearing Docket Favorable Rate Below National Average More Than One Hour to Review Case Before Hearing Requested Fewer Than 10 Hearings Per Week Did Not Schedule Hearings Before Work Up Hearings Lasted More Than One Hour Spent More Than One Hour on Case After Hearing Did Not Issue Bench Decisions Substantial Edits to Over 50 Percent of Decisions Medical Experts in Over Half of Hearings Vocational Experts in Over Half of Hearings 25 Percent or More Hearings Postponed
1 X X X X X
2 X X X X X X X X
3 X X X X X X X
4 X X X X X X X X X
5 X X X X X X X X X X
6 X X X X X X X
7 X X X X X X X X
8 X X X X X X X
9 X X X X X X X
10 X X X X X X X X X
11 X X X X X X
12 X X X X X X X X
13 X X X X X X X X X X X
14 X X X X X X X
15 X X X X X X
16 X X X X X X X X
17 X X X X X X X X X X X
18 X X X X X X
19 X X X X X X X X X
20 X X X X X X X X X X
21 X X X X X X X X
22 X X X X X X X X
23 X X X X X
24 X X X X X X X X
25 X X X X X X X X
26 X X X X X X
27 X X X X
28 X X X X X X X X
29 X X X
Factors That May Have Impacted Productivity of Higher Producing ALJs Interviewed
Individual ALJ Preferences Agency Processes
ALJs Interviewed Located at Hearing Office with Staff Ratio Below National Average Hearing Office Regularly Unable to Fill Hearing Docket Favorable Rate Below National Average More Than One Hour to Review Case Before Hearing Requested Fewer Than 10 Hearings Per Week Did Not Schedule Hearings Before Work Up Hearings Lasted More Than One Hour Spent More Than One Hour on Case After Hearing2 Did Not Issue Bench Decisions Substantial Edits to Over 50 Percent of Decisions Medical Experts in Over Half of Hearings Vocational Experts in Over Half of Hearings 25 Percent or More Hearings Postponed
1 X X X X X
2 X X X X
4 X X X X X
7 X X X
8 X X
9 X X X X X
10 X X
11 X X X
13 X X X
15 X X X
18 X X
19 X X
20 X X X
21 X X X
22 X X X X X
24 X X X X
25 X X X
26 X X X X X
27 X X X X
30 X X X X
31 X X X X X
Administrative Law Judge Disciplinary Actions
ALJ Disciplinary Actions Fiscal Years 2005 Through June 2008
Reason for Action Action Taken or Proposed
1 Intoxication at work. Suspension (7 days)
2 Misconduct toward a fellow employee. Reprimand
3 Misuse of a handicapped parking placard at work. Suspension (5 days)
4 Failure to follow management directives and multiple time and attendance violations. Reprimand
5 Inappropriate use of Government computer. Suspension (1 day)
6 Misuse of Government computer. Suspension (60 days)
7 Criminal activities in a former position. Termination
8 Leave without pay issues over 5-year period. Termination action filed, settled for administrative law judge's (ALJ) retirement
9 Failure to follow management directives. Suspension (15 days) not served, ALJ deceased
10 Failure to follow management directives. Suspension (15 days) not served, pending appeal
11 Failure to follow management directives. Suspension (15 days) not served, pending appeal
12 Insubordination and time and attendance violations. Reprimand
13 Refusal to cooperate in an Equal Employment Opportunity hearing. Suspension (14 days)
14 Worked full-time for Social Security Administration and another agency at the same time. Termination
15 Misconduct toward other employees. Termination proposed
16 Failure to process assigned workload timely and multiple time and attendance violations. Reprimand issued,
Suspension proposed (14 days)
17 Failure to process assigned workload timely and falsified documents. Suspension proposed (30 days)
18 Failure to follow management directives. Suspension proposed (7 days)
19 Arrested for criminal activities. Termination proposed
20 Arrested for criminal activities. Termination proposed
21 Failure to follow management directives. Suspension proposed (5 days)
22 Inappropriate distribution of Agency information. Case under development
23 Misused official title and inappropriate use of Government computer. Termination proposed
24 Inappropriate political activity and use of Government computer. Suspension (10 days)
25 Inappropriate use of Government computer. Suspension (5 days)
26 Inappropriate use of Government computer. Suspension (1 day)
27 Failure to process assigned workload timely. Reprimand
28 Misconduct toward other employees. Reprimand
29 Misconduct during hearings. Reprimand
30 Time and attendance violations. Reprimand
31 Inappropriate distribution of Agency information. Reprimand
Location of New Administrative Law Judges
Location Number of ALJs
Albany, NY 2
Mayaguez, PR 1
New York, NY 3
Newark, NJ 2
Ponce, PR 1
Queens, NY 2
San Juan, PR 3
Syracuse, NY 3
Region 2 Total 17
Charleston, WV 1
Huntington, WV 3
Johnstown, PA 1
Morgantown, WV 2
Seven Fields, PA 3
Wilkes-Barre, PA 4
Region 3 Total 14
Atlanta, GA 5
Atlanta, GA (North) 1
Birmingham, AL 1
Charleston, SC 4
Chattanooga, TN 1
Columbia, SC 1
Fort Lauderdale, FL 2
Greenville, SC 3
Hattiesburg, MS 4
Jackson, MS 3
Knoxville, TN 2
Louisville, KY 1
Macon, GA 2
Mobile, AL 4
Montgomery, AL 1
Nashville, TN 2
Orlando, FL 2
Paducah, KY 1
Raleigh, NC 1
Tupelo, MS 1
Region 4 Total 42
Location Number of ALJs
Cincinnati, OH 4
Cleveland, OH 6
Columbus, OH 2
Dayton, OH 1
Evansville, IN 1
Flint, MI 1
Grand Rapids, MI 2
Indianapolis, IN 1
Milwaukee, WI 4
Oak Park, MI 2
Peoria, IL 2
Region 5 Total 26
Alexandria, LA 1
Fort Smith, AR 2
Little Rock, AR 1
Metairie, LA 5
New Orleans, LA 3
Shreveport, LA 3
Region 6 Total 15
Creve Coeur, MO 1
Springfield, MO 1
West Des Moines, IA 4
Wichita, KS 2
Region 7 Total 8
Billings, MT 1
Fargo, ND 1
Region 8 Total 2
Downey, CA 1
Fresno, CA 2
Sacramento, CA 2
San Bernardino, CA 1
San Jose, CA 1
Region 9 Total 7
Seattle, WA 1
Spokane, WA 1
Region 10 Total 2
Grand Total 133
Fiscal Year 2007 Daily Receipts and Pending Cases per Administrative Law Judge
Hearing Office Number of New ALJs Daily Receipts Per ALJ Daily Receipts per ALJ Rank Pending Cases Per ALJ Pending Cases per ALJ Rank
Boston, MA 0 1.17 135 249 3
Hartford, CT 0 2.53 60 485 42
Manchester, NH 0 1.05 139 165 1
New Haven, CT 0 0.79 140 238 2
Portland, ME 0 1.90 110 317 11
Providence, RI 0 2.15 87 377 22
Springfield, MA 0 1.34 129 255 4
Region 1 Total 0 1.45 - 284 -
Albany, NY 2 4.79 1 1,671 140
Bronx, NY 0 3.18 19 991 114
Brooklyn, NY 0 1.92 108 432 33
Buffalo, NY 0 2.57 54 1,129 122
Jericho, NY 0 3.00 26 879 105
Mayaguez, PR 1 2.78 39 1,322 132
New York, NY 3 1.86 112 390 24
Newark, NJ 2 2.04 97 593 62
Ponce, PR 1 3.43 10 715 89
Queens, NY 2 1.79 113 438 34
San Juan, PR 3 1.56 120 409 31
Syracuse, NY 3 3.38 12 1,186 126
Voorhees, NJ 0 2.00 102 653 74
White Plains, NY 0 1.61 119 400 28
Region 2 Total 17 2.35 - 717 -
Baltimore, MD 0 2.39 72 651 72
Charleston, WV 1 2.35 75 363 19
Charlottesville, VA 0 2.14 89 351 17
Dover, DE 0 2.78 38 493 44
Elkins Park, PA 0 2.33 78 596 63
Harrisburg, PA 0 3.80 6 610 67
Huntington, WV 3 2.67 47 575 59
Johnstown, PA 1 2.33 78 568 58
Morgantown, WV 2 3.37 14 662 78
Norfolk, VA 0 1.29 131 338 15
Philadelphia, PA 0 1.69 117 478 41
Philadelphia-E, PA 0 1.79 113 410 32
Pittsburgh, PA 0 2.74 41 686 83
Richmond, VA 0 2.19 83 441 36
Roanoke, VA 0 2.04 97 400 28
Seven Fields, PA 3 - - - -
Washington, D.C. 0 2.10 92 439 35
Wilkes-Barre, PA 4 2.57 54 657 76
Region 3 Total 14 2.37 - 525 -
Atlanta, GA 5 2.12 91 962 111
Atlanta, GA (North) 1 3.22 17 1,469 136
Birmingham, AL 1 2.77 40 955 109
Charleston, SC 4 2.44 68 747 94
Charlotte, NC 0 2.72 42 922 106
Chattanooga, TN 1 2.29 81 614 68
Columbia, SC 1 2.35 75 685 103
Florence, AL 0 2.53 60 739 92
Fort Lauderdale, FL 2 1.55 121 308 9
Greensboro, NC 0 2.91 31 1,226 129
Greenville, SC 3 2.68 46 1,742 141
Hattiesburg, MS 4 2.62 49 679 81
Jackson, MS 3 3.41 11 1,269 130
Jacksonville, FL 0 1.92 108 577 60
Kingsport, TN 0 1.89 111 363 20
Knoxville, TN 2 2.14 89 742 93
Lexington, KY 0 2.10 92 554 53
Louisville, KY 1 3.38 12 748 95
Macon, GA 2 2.01 101 498 45
Memphis, TN 0 2.34 77 688 84
Miami, FL 0 1.45 126 502 46
Middlesboro, KY 0 2.85 36 487 43
Mobile, AL 4 2.56 56 773 98
Montgomery, AL 1 3.29 16 982 113
Nashville, TN 2 2.58 53 749 96
Orlando, FL 2 2.51 63 622 69
Paducah, KY 1 2.56 56 563 57
Raleigh, NC 1 2.93 27 951 108
Savannah, GA 0 1.94 105 652 73
Tampa, FL 0 2.41 70 1,022 118
Tupelo, MS 1 2.55 58 520 50
Region 4 Total 42 2.44 - 789 -
Chicago, IL 0 1.79 113 605 66
Cincinnati, OH 4 2.87 33 1,002 117
Cleveland, OH 6 3.93 4 1,630 139
Columbus, OH 2 2.92 28 1,158 125
Dayton, OH 1 3.16 20 1,126 121
Detroit, MI 0 3.15 22 1,048 119
Evanston, IL 0 1.40 127 342 16
Evansville, IN 1 3.52 9 1,306 131
Flint, MI 1 3.92 5 1,454 135
Fort Wayne, IN 0 3.12 23 1,134 124
Grand Rapids, MI 2 4.19 2 1,399 133
Indianapolis, IN 1 2.49 65 1,133 123
Lansing, MI 0 2.82 37 1,192 127
Madison, WI 0 2.19 83 969 112
Milwaukee, WI 4 2.65 48 1,000 116
Minneapolis, MN 0 2.62 49 819 101
Oak Brook, IL 0 1.07 138 546 52
Oak Park, MI 2 3.60 8 1,607 138
Orland Park, IL 0 2.51 63 995 115
Peoria, IL 2 2.05 96 803 100
Region 5 Total 26 2.74 - 1,042 -
Albuquerque, NM 0 2.54 59 669 80
Alexandria, LA 1 2.69 45 665 79
Dallas, TX (Downtown) 0 2.31 80 599 64
Dallas, TX (North) 0 1.70 116 460 39
Fort Smith, AR 2 3.11 24 718 90
Fort Worth, TX 0 2.03 100 507 48
Houston, TX (Downtown) 0 1.36 128 336 14
Houston, TX (Bissonnett) 0 1.99 103 655 75
Little Rock, AR 1 2.92 28 726 91
McAlester, OK 0 2.86 34 764 97
Metairie, LA 5 4.05 3 1,408 134
New Orleans, LA 3 2.25 82 625 70
Oklahoma City, OK 0 1.53 122 381 23
San Antonio, TX 0 1.53 122 471 40
Shreveport, LA 3 3.20 18 603 65
Tulsa, OK 0 2.60 52 661 77
Region 6 Total 15 2.19 - 577 -
Creve Coeur, MO 1 2.89 32 865 104
Kansas City, KS 0 2.36 73 1,054 120
Omaha, NE 0 2.62 49 958 110
Springfield, MO 1 3.74 7 1,514 137
St. Louis, MO 0 2.49 65 679 82
West Des Moines, IA 4 3.16 20 1,206 128
Wichita, KS 2 3.11 24 940 107
Region 7 Total 8 2.79 - 974 -
Billings, MT 1 2.52 62 705 88
Colorado Springs, CO 0 2.92 28 700 87
Denver, CO 0 2.70 44 697 85
Fargo, ND 1 2.36 73 699 86
Salt Lake City, UT 0 1.93 106 364 21
Region 8 Total 2 2.49 - 610 -
Downey, CA 1 2.44 68 558 54
Fresno, CA 2 2.19 83 503 47
Honolulu, HI 0 3.32 15 581 61
Las Vegas, NV 0 2.18 83 409 30
Long Beach, CA 0 1.93 106 302 8
Los Angeles, CA (Downtown) 0 1.99 103 398 27
Los Angeles, CA (West) 0 1.19 134 327 12
Oakland, CA 0 1.24 133 309 10
Orange, CA 0 2.10 92 454 38
Pasadena, CA 0 1.25 132 294 7
Phoenix, AZ 0 1.31 130 453 37
Sacramento, CA 2 2.15 87 533 51
San Bernardino, CA 1 2.86 34 561 56
San Diego, CA 0 1.09 137 335 13
San Francisco, CA 0 0.79 140 280 5
San Jose, CA 1 2.71 43 559 55
San Rafael, CA 0 1.11 136 396 26
Santa Barbara, CA 0 1.46 125 359 18
Stockton, CA 0 1.65 118 393 25
Tucson, AZ 0 1.51 124 280 5
Region 9 Total 7 1.68 - 402 -
Eugene, OR 0 2.09 95 508 49
Portland, OR 0 2.41 70 820 102
Seattle, WA 1 2.04 97 649 71
Spokane, WA 1 2.47 67 776 99
Region 10 Total 2 2.22 - 691 -
National Total 133 2.32 - 702 -
Social Security Administration Initiatives
Initiative Description Status
Compassionate Allowances The compassionate allowances initiative seeks to identify cases where the disease or condition is so consistently devastating that the Social Security Administration (SSA) can presume the claimant is disabled once a valid diagnosis is confirmed. By deciding more cases based on medical evidence alone, SSA hopes to reduce the number of claims that require further review. SSA has been developing and expanding the use of automated screening tools to identify the types of cases that fall under the compassionate allowances initiative. SSA is also refining its rules, regulations, and listing codes to reflect current advances in medical science.
Reduce Aged Cases In Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) defined aged cases as those that would be 1,000-days-old by the end of the FY. ODAR redefined aged cases as those that would be 900-days-old by the end of FY 2008. Working down this inventory of aged cases will improve public service and provide decisions to claimants who have waited long periods of time. ODAR reduced the backlog of 1,000-day-old cases to just over 100 cases by the end of FY 2007. At the beginning of FY 2008, there were over 135,000 cases that were or would become 900-days-old or older by the end of the FY. As of April 2008, the number of these aged cases was reduced to less than 40,000 cases. ODAR is on target to eliminate these cases by the end of FY 2008.
Adjudication by Attorney Advisors This initiative allows certain attorney advisors to issue fully favorable on-the-record (OTR) decisions to expedite the decisions and conserve administrative law judge (ALJ) resources for the more complex cases and cases that require a hearing. As of April 2008, there have been over 12,000 Senior Attorney dispositions since the inception of the initiative in November 2007. A final rule was published in the Federal Register in March 2008 indicating that "These procedures will remain in effect for a period not to exceed 2 years "
Increase Adjudicatory Capacity
Streamlined Folder Assembly ALJs have indicated they would schedule more cases for hearing if more cases could be prepared. Under this initiative, paper folders are prepared for hearing by simply numbering the pages in each section of the folder. Duplicates are not purged and evidence is not ordered chronologically. These cases are made available to ALJs who are willing to schedule and hear cases prepared by this method. From October 2007 through April 2008, over 21,600 paper cases were prepared by streamlined folder assembly. In February 2008, ODAR extended the use of the voluntary streamlined folder assembly to electronic folders.
Deputy Commissioner of Operations (DCO) Overtime DCO employees will assist designated hearing offices on overtime with various tasks, which include folder assembly, associating paper mail with the folder, application and query printing, photocopying, scanning, alphabetizing, mailing decisions, filing closed files, folder audit or inventory, creating barcodes, and filing ALJ folders. From June 2007 through September 2007, DCO employees used over 30,500 hours of overtime on almost 295,000 workload activities. From October 2007 through the beginning of May 2008, DCO employees worked over 38,600 additional hours of overtime on more than 466,000 hearing office workload activities.
Remand Cases to Disability Determination Services (DDS) Using profiles developed by SSA's Office of Quality Performance (OQP), unworked paper cases from the ODAR backlog of cases are screened and remanded to DDSs who, using overtime, determine whether a favorable decision can be issued without a hearing. From October 2007 through April 2008, DDSs received more than 28,000 remands. DDSs issued favorable determinations on more than 8,000 of these cases and returned approximately 16,000 cases to ODAR without making a decision, for a reversal rate of 33 percent.
Implement Medical Screening Process Before assignment to an ALJ, cases profiled by OQP are routed to a medical expert to complete a set of interrogatories. Cases that can be allowed OTR are routed to a non-ALJ adjudicator in ODAR for review and decision. Cases that cannot be allowed include the medical expert's response in the record and are routed to an ALJ for normal processing. ODAR developed three interrogatory templates using OQP profile scores to determine whether impairments meet or equal a listing and, if not, the limitations imposed by the impairment(s). In March 2008, the Chief ALJ announced the hearing office procedures for using the newly developed interrogatories. ODAR anticipates this initiative will result in an increase in Attorney Adjudicator OTR dispositions.
Open National Hearing Center (NHC) The NHC reports directly to the Office of the Chief ALJ (OCALJ). All hearings will be held using video hearing equipment in each ALJ office. As a result, there is no conflict in scheduling hearings due to the unavailability of hearing rooms. Each ALJ at the NHC will supervise one or more attorneys, thereby eliminating unnecessary hand-offs of the decision and it is expected that there will be increased communication between the ALJ and the attorney which should lead to an improved decisional outcome. The NHC opened in October 2007. Workloads from heavily backlogged hearing offices are being transferred to this facility. The first 100 cases were received from the Cleveland Hearing Office. After an initial period of training, attorneys and legal assistants began working from this location in November 2007. As of April 2008, there were six ALJs in the NHC. Approximately 120 new cases are received monthly from the Cleveland, Atlanta, and Detroit Hearing Offices.
ALJ Hiring SSA was precluded from hiring ALJs due to a Merit Systems Protection Board decision in 1999 that closed the ALJ register. Other than one exception in 2001, SSA was precluded from hiring ALJs until late 2003. During the time the register was closed, ODAR lost almost 200 ALJs through normal attrition. In October 2007, a new register for ALJs was established. During February 2008, ODAR made 144 selections and received 133 acceptances for 64 locations (see Appendix F). The new ALJs entered on duty in three groups. The first group of 43 ALJs entered on duty in April 2008. The next groups entered on duty in May, June, and July 2008. ODAR has received authority to hire 56 additional ALJs.
Improve ALJ Productivity In October 2007, the Chief ALJ issued a memo to all ALJs with a request for each ALJ to issue 500 to 700 dispositions per year. According to data provided by ODAR, 49 percent of ALJs were on track to issue 500 dispositions for FY 2008, as of April 2008.
Increase Efficiency with Automation and Business Processes
Transition to the Electronic Folder In FY 2007, ODAR transitioned from processing hearings using paper folders to using electronic folders. As of March 2008, ODAR had over 550,000 electronic cases, comprising 73 percent of the pending workload.
ePulling - Electronic File Assembly This initiative involves the development of customized software that has the potential to identify, classify, and sort page level data, reorganize the images after classification, and identify duplicates. The pilot began in June 2008 at ODAR's Model Process Test Facility. The pilot is being expanded to 5 hearing offices and the NHC. Rollout to additional hearing offices is dependent on the performance of the software at the pilot locations.
eScheduling eScheduling is an automated calendaring function that will incorporate scheduling of experts, hearing sites and hearing rooms, equipment, and ALJ availability. ODAR is working with SSA's Office of Systems to identify possible vendors who could provide customized software.
Electronic Records Express (ERE) ERE offers electronic options for submitting health and school records to related disability claims. This initiative will expand access to ERE to allow outside end-users (claimant representatives and expert witnesses) the ability to view the electronic folder online and to receive notices electronically. ODAR is currently working with the Office of Systems and other SSA components to establish authorization and authentication requirements to provide representatives access to the electronic folder via a secure website. This will be piloted with selected representatives beginning in July 2008.
Increase Amount of Data Propagated to the Hearing Office Case Processing System This initiative aims to expand the current functionality and propagation of additional information into ODAR's Case Processing and Management System (CPMS) from other SSA systems. Enhancements in the February 2008 systems release simplified the process for generating a barcode. Enhancements scheduled for July 2008 will include data propagation from the SSA-831 (Disability Determination and Transmittal) into CPMS.
Provide the Ability to Sign Decisions Electronically The electronic signature will give ALJs the ability to sign decisions electronically and the ability for the ALJs to allow the Hearing Office Chief ALJ to sign on their behalf. The Office of Systems completed the first phase of the e-Signature initiative in February 2008 and ODAR is piloting this new process as well as developing training for ALJs. The ability for ALJs to sign cases electronically is expected to be in place in July 2008.
Centralize Printing and Mailing This initiative will provide high speed, high volume printing for all ODAR offices. Documents will be sent electronically from the individual hearing offices to a print server for mailing by a contractor. A pilot in four hearing offices, which began in February 2008, tested this functionality with the Request for Hearing Acknowledgement Letter. This functionality was expanded to include 31 additional hearing offices and 3 more notices in March 2008. During April 2008, over 20,000 notices were produced. Plans are to expand in July 2008 to include 56 more hearing offices and 6 more notices. Plans are to implement this functionality in all remaining offices by October 2008.
Provide Shared Access to the Electronic Folder This initiative will provide the ability to temporarily transfer cases for workload assistance among hearing offices, allowing full functionality to both the original and receiving hearing office. The systems release in February 2008 included the ability to provide shared jurisdiction allowing temporary transfer of electronic cases for pulling and decision writing assistance.
Enhance Hearing Office Management Information The hearing office system currently has an extensive management information application. However, additional methods are needed to monitor task times, more closely monitor workloads, and track the progress of backlog reduction initiatives. In FY 2008, new reports were developed to track aged cases, informal remands, Senior Attorney Adjudicator dispositions, the Medical Expert Screening Initiative, ALJ productivity, and NHC workloads. A report to assist in tracking the cases involved in the Service Area Realignment is currently being developed.
Provide Additional Video Hearing Equipment The goal of this initiative is to expand the number of video hearings, decrease ALJ travel, and increase ALJ productivity. Video hearings can be held in hearing rooms with the use of large, flat panel video monitors and with desktop video units. FY 2007 funds were used to acquire 158 new video units which are being installed in hearing rooms. As of April 2008, 86 of the new units (54 percent) have been installed with sites required by the service area alignment initiative being given priority.
ODAR has begun testing desktop video units. Test sites include ODAR executive
offices in Falls Church and Baltimore, the NHC, four hearing offices, and one
SSA field office in Cleveland, Ohio. The hearing offices have already held several
hearings using the new equipment. The ALJs' feedback has been very positive.
The pilot will run until September 2008.
Mandate Findings Integrated Templates (FIT) Decision Writing System FIT is an initiative designed to improve the quality and consistency of ALJ decisions by including the most common decisional outcomes in decision writing templates. FIT includes more than 1,700 templates covering a variety of issues. From October through March 2008, FIT was used for 92 percent of decision drafts. There are categories for which FIT templates have not been created; therefore, FIT usage is as close to 100 percent as possible. Based on Appeals Council reviews of cases from October 2007 to January 2008, decisions drafted with FIT continue to demonstrate better quality than cases not written with FIT.
Streamlined Fully Favorable Decision Format An ALJ must prepare instructions for the decision, and then a decision writer must read the file and these instructions to integrate the two into a fully favorable decision using FIT templates. With this initiative, ALJs can draft more of their own decisions using a FIT template to create instructions, which are used to generate the rationale of the decision. The decision and appropriate notice are automatically generated, eliminating the need for decision writer assistance. The new templates were downloaded in October 2007 and are now available to all users.
Update Hearing Office Systems Infrastructure New updates were needed to support electronic folder processing. Specifically, updates were needed to increase the capacity of the infrastructure underlying the electronic folder and provide equipment required to support new automation initiatives for ODAR. SSA spent approximately $1 million in FY 2008 to update the hearing office systems infrastructure. Specifically, the Office of Systems purchased and installed servers, video teleconferencing equipment, and telecommunications equipment in hearing offices. Systems staff also supported the relocation of 10 hearing offices and a central office component.
Provide Support to Send Additional Documents to the Electronic Folder This initiative will allow documents such as earnings records and queries to be sent directly to the electronic folder, eliminating the need for hearing office employees to print them and scan them into the electronic folder. This initiative is in the planning and analysis stage and will continue in FY 2008.
Automated Noticing This initiative will give CPMS the ability to automatically produce the appropriate notice based on stored data. The resource needs for this initiative are being assessed.
Develop a New Case Processing and Management System for the Appeals Council The Office of Systems designed and built the Appeals Review Processing System (ARPS) which allows the Appeals Council to process electronic folder cases. Another major benefit of this new system includes SSA-wide access to the case control system. Validation of ARPS took place in December 2007. Staff and managers were trained in January 2008. Conversion to the new system took place in March 2008.
Extend Cooperation Between SSA Components that Process Disability Cases - "One SSA" Communication and cooperation between all components involved in the disability process is necessary to ensure that the needs of all are considered and met when adopting business processes and policies. A national workgroup made up of representatives from DCO and ODAR was formed to encourage regional and local initiatives for enhanced communication and cooperation. There have been a number of successful initiatives on the regional level, including RCALJs attending SSA Executive Staff Meetings, SSA Regional Commissioners speaking at ODAR meetings, hearing office and field office exchange visits, temporary promotions and details of field office employees to ODAR, SSA policy experts and OQP staff providing assistance to ALJs on non-disability issues, and OQP providing training to ODAR.
Establish a Standardized Electronic Business Process The goal of this initiative is to facilitate timely and legally sufficient decisions by achieving and maintaining effective, efficient, and consistent case processing methods and office organizational structures through ODAR. This will maximize the quality of ODAR's operation by improving accuracy, timeliness, productivity, cost-efficiency, and service to the public. Teams of employees from ODAR and OQP visited at least six hearing offices between September and December 2007 to gather information about the hearing process and to identify best practices. Based on these visits, a review team submitted a proposed standardized electronic business process description to OCALJ in February 2008. OCALJ has solicited comments from Regional Offices. The Downey, California and Grand Rapids, Michigan Hearing Offices have been selected to serve as a test sites.
Implement Quality Assurance Program for Hearing Process ODAR is developing a quality assurance program for the hearing process that will provide in line review of the claim file, scheduling process, and decision drafting to ensure timely and legally sufficient hearings and decisions. Regional Office personnel will be charged with the responsibility of overseeing the quality assurance program. The quality assurance initiative is being developed in conjunction with the standardized electronic business process. ODAR is working with OQP to develop review sheets to capture data and track information. ODAR is also working on a formula to select cases for review. OQP found an initial sample of decisions issued by Attorney Adjudicators to be 95 percent accurate.
Expand OQP Review of Reconsideration Denials Using Profiles Historically, the national reconsideration denial accuracy rate averaged around 90 percent. The goals of this initiative are to detect and correct erroneous denial determinations, provide feedback to DDSs, make recommendations, and reduce the volume of hearing requests. OQP will review approximately 14,000 reconsideration denial determinations drawn randomly during 1 year from 15 DDSs that have low accuracy. OQP has completed its review of cases from the first group of five DDSs and is waiting for the DDSs to return cases that were cited in their review. As soon as all data is collected and analyzed, OQP will release a report on its findings.
Provide Improved Training to Hearing Office Management Teams ODAR will use the latest information, tools, and methodologies to develop an effective, dynamic, and challenging training curriculum for newly promoted ODAR management officials. This training will consist of a three-phase approach involving orientation, distance learning, and hearing operation specific classroom training. The first Hearing Office Director and two Group Supervisor classes were held in July and August 2007. The Hearing Office Chief ALJ class was held in July 2007. The Leadership and Training cadres continuously update a training website. The site provides a guide for all three phases of training and contains links to many valuable resources.
Co-locate Remote Hearing Sites with Field Offices ODAR has a variety of sites to hold hearings, including temporary space in hotels, courthouses, schools, and conference centers. ODAR also established many permanent remote sites which were not connected to the SSA network. The goal of this initiative is to develop a plan to co-locate hearing sites with SSA field offices, create national standards and requirements for remote hearing sites, and address security concerns. A joint workgroup was formed with ODAR's Office of Management and OCALJ and Operations members. The workgroup has reviewed current remote site data, pending workloads, and the feasibility of co locating hearing sites with field offices. In March 2008, the workgroup presented a plan to the Commissioner. Plans are to look at co-location opportunities as leases expire.
Effectuate Temporary Service Area Realignments and Continue Interregional Case Transfers This initiative is designed to prevent cases from aging by assisting the most heavily impacted hearing offices with processing their workloads. It is a two-pronged initiative, which in the first phase will include permanent inter-regional case transfers. The second phase will involve realignment of targeted hearing office service areas. In December 2007, OCALJ presented the Commissioner a Service Area Realignment Plan. The plan is designed to move workloads from regions with high receipts and pendings (Chicago and Kansas City) to regions with lower receipts and pendings (Boston and San Francisco). In February 2008, OCALJ explained the plan to Regional Chief ALJs and provided procedures for the transfer of cases. ODAR continues to monitor these transfers for possible refinements.
Continue Decision Writer Productivity Improvement Initiative Hearing offices continue to use the decision writer statistical index report introduced in the beginning of FY 2007 to assess decision writer productivity. In FY 2008, ODAR conducted a decision writer training class for the NHC and plans to conduct five more sessions for paralegals and attorneys to ensure that all decision writers are fully trained.
Use Weekly Workload Reporting and Monitoring Traditionally, management information for the hearing operation has been reported on a monthly basis. While reasons exist for this approach, it may result in delays in case processing as employees process more cases at the end of the month to meet monthly goals. In FY 2007 and continuing into FY 2008, the Chief ALJ has been strongly encouraging managers to monitor workload processing data on a weekly basis and ODAR continues to develop workload reports to monitor hearing office performance this way.
Have Appeals Council Issue Final Decisions when Possible to Reduce Remands Some requests for review that come before the Appeals Council contain minor technical errors that may compromise the support of the decision in court, but do not affect the conclusion on entitlement to benefits. Typically, the Appeals Council remands most of these cases to the hearing level to address the deficiency. Under this initiative, if the case does not require a hearing or more development, the Appeals Council will consider issuing a new decision with the technical issue corrected. This should reduce overall processing time for the claimant and the number of remands. From October 2007 to April 2008, Appeals Council decisions were 2.9 percent of all actions while remands were 22.9 percent. The Appeals Council estimates that from July 2007 to April 2008, the combination of this initiative with the expanded use of FIT resulted in 2,910 fewer cases remanded to hearing offices.
Improved Public ALJ Alleged Misconduct Complaint Process The goal of this initiative is to make the ALJ complaint process both fair and effective for SSA, the ALJs, and the American people. The Office of the General Counsel, OCALJ, Office of Appellate Operations, and Office of Labor Management and Employee Relations had a series of meetings to formulate improvements under current rules and to clarify the complaint process for claimants. ODAR is now in the process of putting those improvements into place.
Overview of the Office of the Inspector General
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is comprised of an Office of Audit (OA), Office of Investigations (OI), Office of the Counsel to the Inspector General (OCIG), Office of External Relations (OER), and Office of Technology and Resource Management (OTRM). To ensure compliance with policies and procedures, internal controls, and professional standards, the OIG also has a comprehensive Professional Responsibility and Quality Assurance program.
Office of Audit
OA conducts financial and performance audits of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) programs and operations and makes recommendations to ensure program objectives are achieved effectively and efficiently. Financial audits assess whether SSA's financial statements fairly present SSA's financial position, results of operations, and cash flow. Performance audits review the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of SSA's programs and operations. OA also conducts short-term management reviews and program evaluations on issues of concern to SSA, Congress, and the general public.
Office of Investigations
OI conducts investigations related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in SSA programs and operations. This includes wrongdoing by applicants, beneficiaries, contractors, third parties, or SSA employees performing their official duties. This office serves as liaison to the Department of Justice on all matters relating to the investigation of SSA programs and personnel. OI also conducts joint investigations with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
Office of the Counsel to the Inspector General
OCIG provides independent legal advice and counsel to the IG on various matters, including statutes, regulations, legislation, and policy directives. OCIG also advises the IG on investigative procedures and techniques, as well as on legal implications and conclusions to be drawn from audit and investigative material. Also, OCIG administers the Civil Monetary Penalty program.
Office of External Relations
OER manages OIG's external and public affairs programs, and serves as the principal advisor on news releases and in providing information to the various news reporting services. OER develops OIG's media and public information policies, directs OIG's external and public affairs programs, and serves as the primary contact for those seeking information about OIG. OER prepares OIG publications, speeches, and presentations to internal and external organizations, and responds to Congressional correspondence.
Office of Technology and Resource Management
OTRM supports OIG by providing information management and systems security. OTRM also coordinates OIG's budget, procurement, telecommunications, facilities, and human resources. In addition, OTRM is the focal point for OIG's strategic planning function, and the development and monitoring of performance measures. In addition, OTRM receives and assigns for action allegations of criminal and administrative violations of Social Security laws, identifies fugitives receiving benefit payments from SSA, and provides technological assistance to investigations.