A government watchdog report is asking an important question – Does the Social Security Administration’s expectation that judges resolve a minimum number of cases every year place an unfair burden on the administrative law judges who oversee disability hearings?
A report by the United States Government Accountability Office titled Process Needed to Review Productivity Expectations for Administrative Law Judges is asking whether these expectations are reasonable or construe an excessive burden on judges.
The massive backlog in the resolution of Social Security disability cases has long been a problem that has plagued the Social Security Administration. In some cases, applicants who have a claim initially rejected may have to wait more than a year to get their case before an administrative law judge. In 2007, the Social Security Administration decided to tackle the backlog problem head on by stating that judges would be required to resolve a minimum number of cases annually. The agency stated that it expected judges to deliver between 500 to 700 opinions annually.
The Social Security Administration was careful to use the word “expectation” and not “quota,” but there is enough indication that judges are finding this expectation very difficult to bear. The Government Accountability Office reports that in one survey, as many as 87 percent of administrative law judges admitted that the expectation was simply too high to be practical. The judges state that one of the factors that has affected their time to resolve cases has been the fact that the size of the average disability claim file has grown significantly, with an average fivefold increase since 2007 when the new expectations were drafted.
There is also the fear that pressure to resolve more cases and too quickly could lead to a drop in the quality of claims processing. Many Social Security disability claims can be very complex, and judges need time to make thorough and fair decisions in these cases.