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Report on Challenges Facing the Social Security Administration in 2015

The Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued its Report on Management and Performance Challenges facing this administration.

Reducing the Hearings Backlog and Prevent Its Recurrence

Factors contributing to the increase in the number of pending hearings are (1) increase in the number of hearing requests, (2) a decrease in the number of available administrative law judges (ALJs), (3) a decrease in ALJ productivity, and (4) a decrease in senior attorney adjudicator decisions

SSA has hired hundreds of new ALJs to replace retiring judges, but assigns only a limited number of cases to the new hires as they complete their training. This has culminated in a 13% decline in productivity. Moreover, SSA managers expected ALJs to carry a maximum of 1200 case assignments in FY2012 and gradually reduced this to 720 cases by 2015. The averae and minimum case assignments were not published.

The number of senior attorney adjudicator decisions numbered 54,200 in FY2010 which has decreased in 2015 to 607 decisions. This constitutes an 89% decrease. Why? No explanation.

Only generic recommendation such as publishing long term goals and focusing resources on capacity issues were set forth. This will not help a bit or compel SSA to do anything differently.

Reducing Other Claims Backlogs

At the end of FY2015, there were a backlogs of more than 723,000 reconsideration claims and 726,000 continuing medical reviews. Although some improvement was made since FY2014, it is clear that no major reduction has taken place.

To assist with processing these claims, SSA has invested more than $344M in the Disability Case Processing System over the last seven years while failing to develop and implement any system at all.

Instead of implementing much needed improvements, SSA has embarked on a fraud prevention program which includes cooperative disability investigations in three area so far (New York City, San Francisco, and Kansas City).

Reducing Improper Payments and Increase Overpayment Recoveries

In FY2014, SSA reported $9.8B in over and underpayments. This high rate of improper payment has resulted in an administrative cost of $0.07 for each overpayment dollar collected. The current Social Security Disability (SSD) overpayment error is $4.6B or 0.5% of program outlays with underpayment error in the amount of $472M or 0.05% of program outlays. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) rate of overpayment was $3.9B or 7% of program outlays with underpayment err of $840M or 1.5% of program outlays. The goal in FY2015 was to keep payment accuracy at 99.8% for SSD claims and 98.8% for SSI claims. Did not happen. Not even close. In fact, SSA has met only one of five targets in this regard over the last five years. SSA continues to fail to track or reconcile payments to avoid the ongoing over and underpayment problems despite recommendations to undertake such activities.

Improving Customer Service

The population of persons 65 and older will grow by more than 18 million from 2015 – 2025 with an additional 8 million by 2030. This will increase demand for SSA services dramatically. In FY 2015, SSA received 5 million retirement, survivors, and Medicare applications, completed 2.7 million initial disability claims, completed over 663,000 requests for hearing, completed 723,000 reconsiderations, 150,000 Appeal Council requests for review, issued 17 million new and replacement SSN cards, posted over 275 million earnings items to worker’s records, handled nearly 37 million calls to the national 800 number, assisted 41 million visitors to field offices, and mailed nearly 350 million notices.

SSA is facing a loss of institutional knowledge with 16% of its employees eligible for retirement in August, 2015 and 28% eligible by 2020. These retirements “could result in various mission-critical skills gaps.”

SSA acknowledges that is does not have sufficient mobile and internet technology for customer service purposes, only starting its My Social Security online portal in FY2014 with limited abilities. It needs to develop and implement applications for this purpose.

Appropriate Use of Resources

SSA has been in the process of replacing the existing National Computer Center (NCC) for several years as the NCC was opened in 1980. $500M has been allocated for this project with SSA reminded to diligently monitor the migration activities for a successful transition. Cybersecurity concerns were also voiced.

Strengthen the Integrity and Protection of the Social Security Number

The Social Security Number (SSN) is heavily relied upon as an identifier in U.S. Society and is a valuable illegal commodity. Therefore, the proper assignment and protections of SSNs is very important. This remains a considerable challenge for SSA. Once SSA assigns an SSN, it retains no authority to how other entities collect, use, or protect it.

SSA depends on earnings information reported from outside sources. It has scarce resources to correct earnings data due to incorrect reporting. SSAs problems with the maintaining the accuracy and completeness of the Death Master File has been widely reported.

Strengthen Planning, Transparency, and Accountability

The usefulness of measures and goals reported by SSA are questioned. More outcome-based performance measures and goals are needed, including targets based on SSA’s long-term outcomes instead of annual budgets. Notably, SSA has been under scrutiny due to highly publicized cases of fraud which revealed a lack of proactive measures in this regard.

Posted in General Disability Issues, Long Term Disability, Private Disability Benefits, Social Security, Social Security Administration, Social Security Disability Benefits, SSA | Tagged , , |

 

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