THE INSPECTOR GENERAL
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Hearing Office Backlogs
March 1, 2010
The Honorable Claire McCaskill
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Senator McCaskill:
In an August 4, 2009 letter, you asked that we determine whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) is dedicating adequate resources to address the pending hearings backlog in the Kansas City Region and, more specifically, the State of Missouri. To address these issues, we reviewed pending hearing claims reports and related data; analyzed hearing office staffing and productivity reports; assessed the status of various initiatives aimed at reducing the pending hearings backlog; and spoke to management and staff in Missouri hearing offices, the Kansas City Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge’s office, and the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review’s Headquarters.
My office is committed to combating fraud, waste, and abuse in SSA’s operations and programs. Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention. The report highlights various facts pertaining to the issues raised in your letter. To ensure SSA is aware of the information provided to your office, we are forwarding a copy of this report to the Agency.
If you have any questions concerning this matter, please call me or have your staff contact Misha Kelly, Congressional and Intra-Governmental Liaison, at (202) 358-6319.
Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr.
Michael J. Astrue
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.
Our objective was to determine whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) is dedicating adequate resources to address the pending hearings backlog in the Kansas City Region and, more specifically, the State of Missouri.
Senator Claire McCaskill’s August 4, 2009, letter enumerated a number of concerns regarding the hearings workload at hearing offices in the Kansas City Region, and specifically in Missouri, including the average age of claims awaiting a hearing, the average processing time for closed hearing claims, and the number of administrative law judges (ALJ) dedicated to this workload. The Senator asked us to determine whether the Agency’s backlog plans and ongoing initiatives are sufficient to ensure disabled Missourians receive a fair share of the Agency’s resources.
Our review focused on both the Kansas City Region and hearing offices in Missouri. The Kansas City Region has seven hearing offices, four of which are located in Missouri. Each of the remaining three States in the Region has one hearing office. Individuals living in one State may also be served by a hearing office in another State. For example, individuals living in Kansas City, Kansas, are served by the hearing office in Kansas City, Missouri.
To accomplish our objective, we reviewed pending hearing claims reports and related data; analyzed hearing office staffing and productivity reports; assessed the status of various initiatives aimed at reducing the pending hearings backlog; and spoke to management and staff in Missouri hearing offices, the Kansas City Regional Chief ALJ’s office, and the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review’s (ODAR) Headquarters.
Results of Review
In FYs 2008 and 2009, the pending hearing claims backlog and productivity trends in the Kansas City Region were generally positive. For instance, over this period, the number of pending hearing claims decreased by about 17 percent, and the average age of the pending hearing claims decreased by over 12 percent. In addition, in FY 2009, the Kansas City Region had the highest disposition rate in the nation by producing about 4 percent more dispositions per day per ALJ than the national average. However, while the Kansas City Region experienced a 4.5-percent decrease in average processing time of closed hearing claims, the Region’s average processing time was still 40 days above the national average.
We found that various initiatives designed to reduce the pending hearings backlog have also assisted in directing resources to the Kansas City Region. For example, the Commissioner’s ALJ Hiring initiative, in combination with additional funding, led to improved staffing ratios and staffing mix ratios in the Region’s hearing offices. Moreover, after the FY 2009 hiring, the number of ALJs in the Region’s hearing offices more closely matched the percent of the pending hearing claims assigned to the Region. ODAR also plans to build a National Hearing Center (NHC) in St. Louis in FY 2010 as well as open a new hearing office in Missouri in FY 2011. In addition, the Service Area Realignment (SAR), NHC, and Video Hearing initiatives have helped to rebalance pending hearing claims in the heavily impacted hearing offices in the Region. Finally, hearing offices in Missouri sent older hearing claims to the disability determination services (DDS) for a new review under the Informal Remands initiative. However, in our conversations with regional and hearing office managers, we were told hearing office space limitations and DDS procedures in Missouri continue to present challenges.
PENDING HEARINGS BACKLOGS
In FYs 2008 and 2009, the Kansas City Region made progress in working down its pending hearing claims backlog. The Region experienced about a 17-percent decrease in the number of pending hearing claims and about a 12-percent drop in the average age of its pending hearing claims backlogs.
Trends in the Number of Pending Hearing Claims
Between FYs 2008 and 2009, the Kansas City Region experienced almost a 17-percent decrease in its pending hearings backlog (see Table 1). This is the largest decrease among ODAR’s 10 Regions. Six of the 10 Regions experienced a decrease in the number of pending hearing claims, while the national pending hearing claims backlog decreased by about 5 percent during this period. The Atlanta Region had the second largest decrease in pending hearing claims at about 13 percent, followed by the Chicago Region at about 12 percent. The percent of pending hearing claims at the NHCs increased by about 418 percent as thousands of pending hearing claims have been transferred from the Regions to the NHCs over the last 2 FYs. The pending hearings backlog in the Boston Region increased by about 43 percent because hearing claims were transferred into the Region from other heavily impacted Regions. For a further explanation of hearing claim transfers, see the SAR initiative section of this report.
Table 1: Trends in the Number of Pending Hearing Claims per Region
(At the end of FYs 2008 and 2009)
Region Number of
Claims per Region
End of FY 2008 Number of Pending
Claims per Region End of FY 2009
Kansas City 39,622 33,001 - 16.7
Atlanta 216,407 188,566 - 12.9
Chicago 143,188 125,820 - 12.1
Seattle 24,605 22,117 - 10.1
New York 71,295 65,310 - 8.4
Dallas 72,485 69,971 - 3.5
San Francisco 77,829 79,419 2.0
Philadelphia 73,426 77,273 5.2
Denver 19,934 21,544 8.1
Boston 19,780 28,199 42.6
National Hearing Centers 2,242 11,602 417.5
Totals 760,813 722,822 - 5.0
Trends in Average Age of Pending Hearing Claims
During the last 2 FYs, the average age of the pending hearing claims in the Kansas City Region decreased by over 12 percent, or an average of 41 days per claim (see Table 2). Overall, during this period, the average age of the pending hearing claims in 9 of ODAR’s 10 Regions decreased. The Boston Region was the only exception, with the average age of pending hearing claims increasing by more than 12 percent. Despite the increase in its average age of pending hearing claims, the Boston Region still maintained the lowest average age of pending claims among all Regions, while the Chicago Region had the highest average age. As discussed in our September 2009
report, since the end of FY 2007, ODAR has focused hearing offices’ efforts on processing the oldest hearing claims in their pending backlogs, thereby reducing the average age of pending hearing claims nationwide.
Table 2: Trends in Average Age of Pending Hearing Claims per Region
(At the end of FYs 2008 and 2009)
Region Average Age of Pending Claims
End of FY 2008 (days) Average Age of Pending Claims
End of FY 2009
National Hearing Centers 589 468 - 20.5
Seattle 338 289 - 14.5
Atlanta 332 284 - 14.5
Kansas City 332 291 - 12.3
Chicago 374 335 - 10.4
San Francisco 282 262 - 7.1
New York 284 269 - 5.3
Philadelphia 248 236 - 4.8
Dallas 259 250 - 3.5
Denver 270 267 - 1.1
Boston 208 234 12.5
National Average 311 282 - 9.3
Note: The national average represents all pending hearing claims regardless of the specific region or NHC responsible for each claim.
DISPOSITION RATES AND AVERAGE PROCESSING TIMES OF HEARING CLAIMS
In FY 2009, the Kansas City Region led the nation in disposition rate (number of dispositions per day per ALJ) of closed hearing claims. However, while the Kansas City Region experienced a decrease in average processing time of closed hearing claims, its processing time was still 40 days above the national average.
Disposition Rate for Closed Hearing Claims
In FY 2009, the Kansas City Region had the highest disposition rate on closed hearing claims at 2.47, which was about 4 percent higher than the national average of 2.37 (see Table 3).
Table 3: National Ranking Disposition Rate of Closed Hearing Claims
(At the end of FY 2009)
Regional Office Disposition Rate
Kansas City 2.47
New York 2.43
San Francisco 2.21
National Average 2.37
Note: The national average represents all closed hearing claims
regardless of the specific region or NHC responsible for each claim.
Four of the hearing offices in the Kansas City Region had disposition rates above the national average, and three hearing offices (two in Missouri) were below the national average (see Table 4).
Table 4: Disposition Rates of Closed Hearing Claims
in Kansas City Region’s Hearing Offices
(At the end of FY 2009)
Hearing Office State Disposition Rate
St. Louis Missouri 2.85
Creve Coeur Missouri 2.74
Wichita Kansas 2.68
West Des Moines Iowa 2.46
Omaha Nebraska 2.29
Kansas City Missouri 2.06
Springfield Missouri 2.01
Average Processing Time of Closed Hearing Claims
The Kansas City Region experienced a 4.5-percent decrease in average processing time of closed hearing claims (see Table 5), a percent consistent with the national average. However, the Region’s processing time is still 40 days above the national average.
Table 5: Trends in Average Processing Time of
Closed Hearing Claims per Region
(At the end of FYs 2008 and 2009)
Region Average Processing Time of Closed Claims
End of FY 2008 Average Processing Time of Closed Claims
End of FY 2009
Dallas 445 398 - 10.6
New York 519 465 - 10.4
Chicago 665 615 - 7.5
Seattle 561 531 - 5.3
Boston 373 356 - 4.6
Kansas City 556 531 - 4.5
Atlanta 551 528 - 4.2
Philadelphia 393 402 2.3
Denver 429 447 4.2
San Francisco 436 472 8.3
National Hearing Centers 615 687 11.7
National Average 514 491 - 4.5
Note: The national average represents all processed hearing claims regardless of the specific region or NHC responsible for each claim.
In terms of the average processing time for closed hearing claims at each of the Kansas City Region’s hearing offices, two hearing offices were below the national average, while five exceeded the national average of 491 days (see Table 6).
Table 6: Average Processing Times of Closed Hearing Claims
in Kansas City Region’s Hearing Offices
(At the end of FY 2009)
State Average Processing
Wichita Kansas 412
St. Louis Missouri 448
West Des Moines Iowa 526
Creve Coeur Missouri 552
Omaha Nebraska 581
Kansas City Missouri 629
Springfield Missouri 654
ODAR has been able to increase both ALJ and support staff levels in the Kansas City Region, thereby improving overall staffing ratios in the hearing offices. In addition, the ratio of ALJs to backlogs has improved, and ODAR plans to open more hearing offices in the Kansas City Region, including one in Missouri.
ALJ and Support Staff Hiring
Since 2007, the Agency has funded the Commissioner’s ALJ Hiring initiative to hire additional ALJs and increase ODAR’s adjudicatory capacity. In FY 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided SSA $500 million to process its increasing retirement and disability backlogs. Using Recovery Act funds, ODAR hired 550 new employees as well as 35 ALJs in FY 2009. In addition to these 585 new hires, ODAR hired 899 support staff and 112 ALJs in the regions and NHCs using funds from its FY 2009 appropriation.
In March 2009, SSA’s Commissioner testified that about 4.5 staff per ALJ (referred to as the staffing ratio) was necessary to maximize the number of legally sufficient hearings and decisions by ALJs. In this context, “staff” represents both decision writers and other support staff. Moreover, in a FY 2009 memorandum, ODAR’s Deputy Commissioner recommended the Regions hire 1.5 decision writers per ALJ and
2.5 other support staff per ALJ (referred to as the staffing mix ratios), thereby giving additional definition to the Commissioner’s staffing ratio goal.
We found that all but one of the hearing offices in the Kansas City Region had staffing ratios that exceeded the Commissioner’s target of 4.5 staff per ALJ at the end of FY 2009 (see Table 7). Only the St. Louis Hearing Office was below the target, but the office still maintained a minimum level of 4.0 support staff per ALJ.
Table 7: Staffing Ratio per ALJ in Kansas City Region Hearing Offices
(At the end of FY 2009)
Hearing Office State Support Staff Per ALJ Ratio
Omaha Nebraska 6.60
West Des Moines Iowa 5.70
Wichita Kansas 4.71
Springfield Missouri 4.63
Creve Coeur Missouri 4.60
Kansas City Missouri 4.51
St. Louis Missouri 4.24
Most hearing offices in the Kansas City Region met or exceeded ODAR’s 1.5 decision writers per ALJ staffing mix ratio target (see Table 8). The only exception was the
St. Louis Hearing Office, whose staffing mix ratio was slightly less than the target. In a January 2010 report, we found that hearing offices that met or exceeded the
1.5 decision writers per ALJ staffing mix target had, on average, almost a 9 percent higher productivity rate than those hearing offices with a ratio less than the target.
Table 8: Decision Writer per ALJ Ratio in Kansas City Region Hearing Offices
(At the end of FY 2009)
Hearing Office State Decision Writers per ALJ Ratio
West Des Moines Iowa 2.00
Springfield Missouri 1.83
Wichita Kansas 1.71
Creve Coeur Missouri 1.64
Kansas City Missouri 1.55
Omaha Nebraska 1.50
St. Louis Missouri 1.45
Finally, we examined the staffing mix ratio of other support staff per ALJ for hearing offices in the Kansas City Region and found that every office exceeded ODAR’s national target of 2.5 other support staff per ALJ (see Table 9). In our earlier review, we did not find productivity differences based on the other support staffing mix ratio.
Table 9: Other Support Staff per ALJ Ratio
in Kansas City Region’s Hearing Offices
(At the end of FY 2009)
State Other Support Staff
Per ALJ Ratio
Omaha Nebraska 5.10
West Des Moines Iowa 3.70
Wichita Kansas 3.00
Creve Coeur Missouri 2.96
Kansas City Missouri 2.96
Springfield Missouri 2.80
St. Louis Missouri 2.78
Available ALJs Compared to Pending Hearing Claims Backlog per Region
We found that the allocation of available ALJs in the Kansas City Region closely matched the Region’s share of the national pending hearings backlog (see Table 10). At the end of FY 2009, the Region had 4.4 percent of SSA’s available ALJs and was assigned 4.6 percent of the national pending hearings backlog, resulting in a negative gap of 0.2 percent. Two other Regions had much larger negative gaps in their share of available ALJs to process their pending hearings backlog: the Chicago Region had the greatest negative gap at 2.6 percent, followed by the Atlanta Region with a negative gap of 1.6 percent.
Table 10: Available ALJs Compared to Pending Hearing Claims per Region
(At the End of FY 2009)
Region Percent of Available ALJs Percent of National Pending Claims Backlog
Difference in Percent (Gap)
Chicago 14.8 17.4 -2.6
Atlanta 24.5 26.1 -1.6
Denver 2.5 3.0 -0.5
Kansas City 4.4 4.6 -0.2
San Francisco 10.9 11.0 -0.1
Boston 4.0 3.9 +0.1
New York 9.2 9.0 +0.2
Seattle 3.2 3.0 +0.2
National Hearing Centers 2.3 1.6 +0.7
Philadelphia 11.6 10.7 +0.9
Dallas 12.6 9.7 +2.9
Totals 100 100
With the addition of new resources, ODAR is planning to add two offices to the Kansas City Region in the next 2 years: Topeka, Kansas, in FY 2010 and Columbia, Missouri, in FY 2011. ODAR also plans to open a new NHC in St. Louis, Missouri, in FY 2010.
INITIATIVES DESIGNED TO REDUCE AND ELIMINATE THE HEARINGS BACKLOG
ODAR has implemented a number of initiatives to assist Regions in managing their pending hearings backlogs, including (1) the SAR initiative, (2) the NHC and Video Hearing initiatives, and (3) the Informal Remand initiative.
The SAR initiative, implemented in FY 2007, used a two-phase strategy. The first phase used permanent transfer of hearing claims between Regions or within the same Region. Under this initiative, pending hearings backlogs in heavily impacted hearing offices were transferred to less impacted Regions. Phase two involved realigning specific SSA field offices from high impact Regions to hearing offices in less impacted Regions.
In FY 2008, ODAR used the SAR initiative to rebalance pending hearing claims in heavily impacted hearing offices in the Kansas City Region. Claims were processed and heard in hearing offices in a different part of the country than where the claimant lived. For instance, in FY 2008, the Kansas City, Missouri, Hearing Office sent approximately 3,200 claims to the San Francisco Region for processing (see Table 11). In other situations, pending claims were transferred internally from one part of the Region to another for processing. For example, 220 claims were transferred within the Kansas City Region from the Kansas City Hearing Office’s service area in Nevada, Missouri, to the Wichita Hearing Office in Kansas.
Table 11: Hearing Claims Transferred to the San Francisco
Region from the Kansas City, Missouri, Hearing Office
Receiving Hearing Office Number of Claims Transferred
Long Beach, California 1,213
San Diego, California 766
Tucson, Arizona 1,209
According to ODAR, in FY 2009 the Atlanta Region transferred the most hearing claims (12,474) to other Regions for processing, while the Kansas City Region transferred almost 3,600 claims (see Figure 1) to other Regions. Over 18,000 hearing claims were transferred to the NHCs in FY 2009.
Figure 1: Permanent Hearing Claim Transfers per Region in FY 2009
Note: The red bars indicate hearing claims transferred to the Region, and the white bars indicate claims transferred from the Region. All figures represent the net transfers in and out of each Region.
The Kansas City Region also realigned some of its service areas. For instance, in October 2008, new hearing claims being filed in the Joplin and Nevada, Missouri, service areas were processed by the San Diego, California, Hearing Office. In FY 2009, when the San Francisco Region was facing its own pending hearings backlog (see Figure 1), these service areas were realigned with the Dallas Region. Finally, by the end of FY 2009, these service areas were moved back to the Kansas City Region.
NHC and Video Hearing Initiatives
ODAR implemented the NHC and Video Hearing initiatives to assist in processing pending hearing claims in heavily impacted hearing offices. Under these initiatives, pending hearing claims from heavily impacted hearing offices are transferred to the NHCs for processing. All pending hearing claims processed by the NHCs use video technology. ALJs stationed at the NHCs hear claims from claimants and their representatives in offices from all over the country that are equipped with video technology. As noted earlier, ODAR is operating four NHCs nationwide, with a fifth NHC set to open in St. Louis, Missouri, in FY 2010.
ODAR reported that 2,700 hearing claims were transferred from Missouri hearing offices to the NHCs in FY 2009. Approximately 2,000 hearing claims were sent to the Albuquerque NHC, and another 700 claims were sent to the Chicago NHC.
The Informal Remand initiative was developed to increase ODAR’s adjudicatory capacity and reduce the paper case backlog (predominantly aged hearing claims) by having the DDS reopen certain claims based on specific profiles established by SSA’s Office of Quality Performance. DDSs review the claims, and, in each case where the DDS makes a fully favorable determination, the claim is allowed by the DDS while the hearing is dismissed by the hearing office. If the DDS cannot make a favorable decision, the claim is returned to the hearing office and continues to go through the normal hearing process (with updated medical information). Although the initiative was intended to reduce the backlog of paper hearing claims, it was extended to electronic claims in March 2008.
According to the Deputy Commissioner for Operations’ Office of Disability Determinations, the Missouri DDS received 1,551 informal remand claims in FY 2009 and made fully favorable decisions on 419 claims, a 27-percent approval rate. Of the remaining claims, 1,126 were returned to hearing offices as “no decision” claims, and 6 were still pending in the DDS. The Kansas DDS and the Mid-America Program Service Center Federal Disability Unit in Kansas City also assisted the Missouri hearing offices with these remands. Overall, ODAR reported that 1,062 cases were allowed at the DDS level and dismissed in Missouri hearing offices in FY 2009 because of this initiative.
KANSAS CITY REGIONAL AND HEARING OFFICE MANAGEMENT TEAMS
We interviewed managers at the four Missouri hearing offices as well as the Kansas City Regional Office to obtain their input on how additional resources and the initiatives have affected their ability to process pending hearings backlogs. While the managers were pleased with how the transfer process was assisting with backlogs, they stated that space limitations and the extra hearing claims being generated from the DDS under the Disability Redesign Prototype were hindering efforts to reduce the backlog.
The Creve Coeur Hearing Office management team believes that increased dispositions at Creve Coeur are the result of the addition of new ALJs in recent years and increased emphasis on improving performance. According to the management team, the Creve Coeur pending hearings backlog has also been reduced under the SAR initiative. Specifically, approximately 2,400 cases were transferred from the Creve Coeur Hearing Office to the Oklahoma City Hearing Office. In addition, new receipts from the Columbia, Missouri, service area were also being processed by the Oklahoma City Hearing Office.
Managers at the Springfield Hearing Office stated that the Disability Redesign Prototype and office space limitations inhibited the reduction of pending hearings backlogs. The management team believed the Prototype slowed processing and contributed to the backlog. For instance, space limitations at the hearing office required that two attorneys share one office, and a new judge had been placed at one end of the supply room. The Regional Office and ODAR Headquarters have assisted Springfield by permanently transferring some hearing claims to other parts of the Region as well as realigning service areas in West Plains and Joplin, Missouri.
Managers at the Kansas City Hearing Office also reported space limitations requiring that two attorneys work in cubicles until two offices are built. The management team reported that the average processing time at Kansas City worsened in FY 2009 because of the focus on processing aged hearing claims—one of the Commissioner’s initiatives. At the same time, the number of dispositions increased because two new ALJs were hired and an ALJ with lower productivity retired.
The St. Louis Hearing Office Chief ALJ explained that the NHC initiative had helped process the Hearing Office’s pending hearings backlog. The NHC in Chicago took 100 hearing claims per month from the Hannibal, Missouri, remote site, resulting in about 700 claims being sent to the NHC in FY 2009.
The Kansas City Regional management team stated that the Region is experiencing a 12 to 14 percent increase in hearing receipts in FY 2010 because of the downturn in the local economy. However, hiring new employees has assisted the Region in reducing the backlog of pending hearing claims. Nevertheless, retaining ALJs in the more remote locations has been difficult. Management stated that after serving 90 days in a duty station, an ALJ may be eligible to transfer to another less remote location. Finally, the Regional Office management team stated that Missouri’s Prototype status slows hearing claim processing time in Missouri hearing offices. The managers believe returning the reconsideration step to the DDS process would help to reduce the pending hearings backlog.
The pending hearings backlog in the Kansas City Region and the State of Missouri is improving with the addition of resources as well as better management of the backlog. We found that both the number of pending hearing claims and the average age of the pending hearing claims in the Region have decreased over the last 2 years. In addition, hearing offices in the Region have steadily improved the average processing time on closed hearing claims.
The Region has benefited from additional staffing as well as a number of hearings backlog initiatives. For instance, additional hiring led to improved staffing ratios and staffing mix ratios in the Region’s hearing offices. In addition, using the SAR, NHC, and Video Hearing initiatives, Missouri Hearing Offices have been able to transfer some of their pending hearing claims to other Regions for processing. Also, the Informal Remand initiative has helped the Region by returning older pending hearing claims to the DDS for updated medical records, and, in some cases, a fully favorable decision.
Finally, we learned in our discussions with the management teams in the hearing offices and Kansas City Region that active management of the pending hearings backlog has shown promising results in providing more timely service to the claimants within the Region, while space limitations and the Prototype continue to present challenges.
APPENDIX A – Acronyms
APPENDIX B – Scope and Methodology
APPENDIX C – Fiscal Year 2009 Hearing Office Disposition Rates and Average Processing Times of Closed Claims
APPENDIX D – Planned New Hearing Offices and National Hearing Center
ALJ Administrative Law Judge
Disability Determination Services
FY Fiscal Year
NHC National Hearing Center
ODAR Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
SAR Service Area Realignment
SSA Social Security Administration
Scope and Methodology
To accomplish our objective, we:
• Reviewed prior Office of the Inspector General reports related to processing hearing claims at hearing offices in the Kansas City Region and nationwide.
• Reviewed the Agency’s backlog reduction initiatives to identify those related to the pending hearings backlog.
• Examined the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review’s (ODAR) biweekly staffing reports to understand staffing ratios and the staffing mix in the Kansas City Region compared to the nation.
• Reviewed ODAR’s Case Processing and Management System reports to compare the average age of pending hearing claims, average processing time of closed hearing claims, and disposition rates at hearing offices in Missouri to the nation. We also compared Missouri backlog statistics with ODAR’s Hearing Backlog Reduction Update Booklets and noted any differences.
• Determined the number of Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 permanent hearing claim transfers to and from all regions and National Hearing Centers, as well as the Missouri hearing offices. We also examined service area realignments involving Missouri hearing offices in FY 2009 and the number and status of informal remands processed by Missouri hearing offices.
• Determined the locations, planned opening dates, and estimated number of administrative law judges for new hearing offices and National Hearing Centers in the Kansas City Region and Missouri.
• Interviewed the Kansas City Regional Office management team as well as managers at the Creve Coeur, Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Louis Hearing Offices in Missouri.
We found the disposition and average processing time data used in our review to be sufficiently reliable to meet our audit objective. Due to time constraints, we did not determine the reliability of the case transfer and informal remand counts provided by the Agency. The entity audited was the Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review. We conducted this performance audit from August through December 2009 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective. We believe the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective.
Fiscal Year 2009 Hearing Office Disposition Rates and Average Processing Times of Closed Claims
The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) ranks hearing office performance by a number of criteria including dispositions per day per administrative law judge (ALJ) (disposition rate) and average processing time. Table C-1 shows the disposition rates and average processing times of closed hearing claims for ODAR’s 142 hearing offices in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009. The table is sorted by the disposition rate and then the average processing time.
Table C-1: FY 2009 Hearing Office Performance by Disposition Rate
and Average Processing Time of Closed Claims
(Sorted on Dispositions per Day per ALJ and Average Processing Time)
Count Hearing Office Region Number of ALJs Dispositions per Day per ALJ Average Processing Time
1 Ponce 2 3 5.65 352
2 Mayaguez 2 1 3.77 394
3 Harrisburg 3 7 3.45 292
4 Jericho 2 8 3.38 446
5 Greenville 4 10 2.99 629
6 Atlanta Downtown 4 14 2.91 536
7 Seven Fields 3 9 2.90 425
8 Honolulu 9 1 2.89 444
9 St. Louis 7 11 2.85 448
10 Albany 2 8 2.83 475
11 Kingsport 4 8 2.82 377
12 Wilkes Barre 3 11 2.81 435
13 Brooklyn 2 12 2.80 374
14 Eugene 10 7 2.80 526
15 Nashville 4 9 2.79 517
16 Flint 5 5 2.77 622
17 Little Rock 6 12 2.74 457
18 Creve Coeur 7 11 2.74 552
19 Los Angeles Downtown 9 7 2.72 411
20 Bronx 2 7 2.72 620
21 Long Beach 9 6 2.69 437
22 Wichita 7 7 2.68 412
23 Fort Smith 6 6 2.66 393
24 Alexandria 6 10 2.64 444
25 Minneapolis 5 12 2.63 572
26 Ft. Lauderdale 4 14 2.60 391
27 Columbia 4 9 2.60 636
28 Shreveport 6 8 2.59 334
29 Johnstown 3 7 2.58 458
30 Spokane 10 6 2.57 440
31 Colorado Springs 8 5 2.56 467
32 Charlotte 4 11 2.56 525
33 Orland Park 5 8 2.56 556
34 Jackson 4 49 2.56 659
35 Charleston 3 9 2.55 352
36 San Bernardino 9 9 2.55 426
37 New York 2 12 2.54 455
38 Tucson 9 5 2.54 458
39 Evansville 5 5 2.54 499
40 Greensboro 4 10 2.54 622
41 Fort Wayne 5 8 2.54 653
42 Huntington 3 8 2.53 336
43 Pittsburgh 3 7 2.53 498
44 Raleigh 4 12 2.53 538
45 Birmingham 4 16 2.53 601
46 Tulsa 6 9 2.52 468
47 Montgomery 4 10 2.52 593
48 Grand Rapids 5 7 2.52 618
49 San Juan 2 8 2.51 281
50 Paducah 4 5 2.50 462
51 Los Angeles West 9 7 2.49 547
52 Oak Park 5 7 2.49 674
53 Metairie 6 8 2.47 439
54 Macon 4 7 2.46 427
55 Jacksonville 4 14 2.46 498
56 West Des Moines 7 6 2.46 526
57 Chattanooga 4 11 2.45 428
58 McAlester 6 2 2.45 495
59 Middlesboro 4 1 2.44 311
60 Hattiesburg 4 10 2.44 473
61 Syracuse 2 10 2.44 594
62 Manchester 1 8 2.43 381
63 Dallas Downtown 6 12 2.43 408
64 Albuquerque 6 9 2.43 465
65 Mobile 4 14 2.43 528
66 Tupelo 4 10 2.42 497
67 Providence 1 6 2.41 352
68 San Jose 9 8 2.41 416
69 Fort Worth 6 8 2.39 337
70 San Francisco 9 7 2.39 489
71 Philadelphia East 3 10 2.38 336
72 Charlottesville 3 7 2.38 419
73 Norfolk 3 7 2.37 404
74 Orlando 4 11 2.36 480
75 Houston-Bissonnet 6 13 2.35 363
76 Sacramento 9 14 2.35 404
77 Houston – Downtown 6 10 2.34 336
78 San Antonio 6 17 2.34 340
79 Lexington 4 8 2.34 465
80 Memphis 4 10 2.34 521
81 Newark 2 12 2.33 458
82 Phoenix 9 9 2.33 524
83 Lansing 5 7 2.33 636
84 Stockton 9 7 2.31 436
85 Savannah 4 10 2.31 520
86 Richmond 3 5 2.29 400
87 Omaha 7 4 2.29 581
88 Oak Brook 5 7 2.29 593
89 Charleston 4 8 2.28 624
90 Springfield 1 6 2.27 355
91 Elkins Park 3 10 2.27 397
92 Morgantown 3 9 2.26 404
93 Louisville 4 9 2.25 525
94 Atlanta North 4 10 2.25 609
95 Portland 1 5 2.24 278
96 Salt Lake City 8 6 2.24 336
97 Voorhees 2 7 2.24 467
98 New Orleans 6 10 2.23 366
99 Billings 8 5 2.23 440
100 San Rafael 9 7 2.23 493
101 Knoxville 4 11 2.23 496
102 Dallas North 6 14 2.22 362
103 Hartford 1 7 2.22 407
104 Florence 4 7 2.22 514
105 Dover 3 5 2.21 370
106 Las Vegas 9 3 2.21 477
107 Boston 1 14 2.19 346
108 Downey 9 5 2.19 481
109 Fargo 8 5 2.17 469
110 Seattle 10 16 2.17 508
111 Philadelphia 3 10 2.13 365
112 Washington 3 5 2.13 489
113 Roanoke 3 8 2.10 454
114 Denver 8 11 2.10 502
115 Detroit 5 12 2.10 663
116 Peoria 5 8 2.08 617
117 Santa Barbara 9 3 2.07 468
118 Kansas City 7 11 2.06 629
119 Baltimore 3 10 2.05 500
120 Tampa 4 14 2.03 581
121 Dayton 5 7 2.03 640
122 Fresno 9 8 2.02 516
123 Evanston 5 10 2.01 499
124 Springfield 7 6 2.01 654
125 Oklahoma City 6 13 2.00 432
126 Orange 9 8 2.00 474
127 Portland 10 10 1.99 652
128 Indianapolis 5 12 1.98 713
129 New Haven 1 5 1.97 392
130 Cleveland 5 13 1.93 590
131 Buffalo 2 14 1.92 583
132 Milwaukee 5 12 1.85 626
133 Pasadena 9 7 1.81 484
134 White Plains 2 7 1.75 447
135 Cincinnati 5 13 1.74 648
136 Madison 5 2 1.66 668
137 Chicago 5 8 1.63 610
138 Queens 2 7 1.59 472
139 Oakland 9 8 1.58 538
140 Columbus 5 11 1.56 650
141 San Diego 9 9 1.45 537
142 Miami 4 11 1.43 587
Planned New Hearing Offices and National Hearing Center
The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) plans to open 13 new hearing offices in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 (see Figure D-1 and Table D-1). In terms of the Kansas City Region, ODAR plans to open one new hearing office in Topeka, Kansas, in FY 2010 and another in Columbia, Missouri, in FY 2011 (not shown below). In addition, St. Louis, Missouri will be the location of ODAR’s fifth National Hearing Center (NHC) in FY 2010.
Figure D-1: Planned New Hearing Offices and National Hearing Center in FY 2010
Table D-1: New Hearing Offices and National Hearing Center
Planned for FY 2010
Staff Planned 2010
Anchorage, Alaska 2 11 February
St. Louis (NHC) 18 NA May
St. Petersburg, Florida 11 54 May
Akron, Ohio 12 58 June
Livonia, Michigan 10 49 June
Madison, Wisconsin 6 30 June
Phoenix, Arizona 8 39 June
Tallahassee, Florida 5 45 June
Toledo, Ohio 10 49 June
Covington, Georgia 9 45 July
Topeka, Kansas 5 26 July
Fayetteville, North Carolina 9 58 August
Mt. Pleasant, Michigan 12 58 August
Valparaiso, Indiana 12 63 August
TOTAL 129 585
Commissioner of Social Security
Office of Management and Budget, Income Maintenance Branch
Chairman and Ranking Member, Committee on Ways and Means
Chief of Staff, Committee on Ways and Means
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Social Security
Majority and Minority Staff Director, Subcommittee on Social Security
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on the Budget, House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Oversight and
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Appropriations, House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations,
House of Representatives
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Finance
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Social Security Pensions and Family Policy
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member, Senate Special Committee on Aging
Social Security Advisory Board
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.