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Continuing Social Security Disability Backlogs – 2015

By Scott B. Elkind, Esq.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued its September, 2015 Audit Report entitled “The Social Security Administration’s Efforts to Eliminate the Hearings Backlog” in which it took SSA to task for its failure in its efforts in this regard.

As of March, 2015, the hearing backlog (cases awaiting an initial hearing decision) totaled approximately one million with a processing time of 450 days. This is a far cry from the goal of 270 days previously set by SSA.

Four factors have been attributed to causing the enormous backlog:

An increase in hearing requests
A decrease in administrative law judge (ALJ) productivity (14% from 2012 to 2014)
A decrease in senior attorney adjudicator decisions
A recent decrease in the number of available ALJs (decreasing from 1350 in 2013 to 1247 in 3/15)

At this time, SSA has not presented a long-term, multi-year strategy for reducing the growing hearings backlog and worsening timeliness. The agency had presented a 38 point tactical plan of which 21 initiatives were mere variations of prior efforts. Of the 38 short term hearing backlog initiatives, only 18 (47%) are ongoing with 17 being accomplished. Whereas, hearing dispositions peaked in 2012 and have decreased continuously since that time while receiving a record number of hearing requests in 2011 (861,500).

This report mentioned that some managers reported that ALJ workloads have decreased ALJ productivity as it creates a disincentive to be productive so as not be labeled an “outlier.” This has resulted in 115,000 fewer dispositions over the past three years.

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