- Revew ALJ workloads, adherence to Agency policies and procedures, and related monitoring.
- Provide information on those ALJs who differ very significantly from their peers in their productivity or decisional outcomes.
- Assess what factors may account for any variances in these rates, as well as how the ALJs obtained the cases they worked and whether they held hearings. The
- Describe and assess the use and effectiveness of management controls regarding ALJ adherence to SSA policies and procedures and any constraints, including statutory limitations, which make it difficult to ensure ALJs’ adherence to those policies and procedures.
- Describe and assess the effectiveness of SSA’s quality review system for ALJ decisions, including reviews by the Appeals Council and the Office of Quality Performance.
There is a wide discrepancy between ALJs in the nation, within a region, and within a single office. The Wall Street Journal reported the numbers. Just focusing on merits decisions, the average over the last couple years hovers around 65% favorable decisions. The standard deviation is about 18%, meaning that 68% of judges will pay between 47% and 83% of cases that they hear. That means that an ALJ can grant 100% of cases and still fall within 2 standard deviations from the average, but there is a whole raft of judges that pay so few cases that they are are in the 2nd or less percentile. If Congress wants to encourage the agency to push ALJ's towards a smaller deviation standard and with a possibllity of an ALJ falling outside of 2 standard deviations from the mean by paying too many and too few cases, bring it on. There are far too many judges paying too few than there are two many cases.
What factors cause the wide discrepancy and what can SSA do about it? That brings up my pet peeve: judges that just don't follow the law. The reason that some judges don't pay deserving cases can be as varied as the size of the ALJ corps. But judges that are bent on denying claims will look for reasons that violate the beneficial intent of the Social Security Act, the regulations, and agency policy every day. The damage done to deserving individuals and families in pulling the rug out from beneath society's promise to help the disabled contravenes the idea of the social compact. Disability benefits becomes an entitlement when people lose the ability to work - substantial gainful activity under the Act.
I look forward to an investigation into the discrepancies and variances between judges hearing cases. The public deserves predictability in cases. It should not be a lottery but a fair and evenhanded adjudication that does not depend on which office or which judge in the office gets assigned. As long as cases get heard by human beings we can expect mistakes. That is human frailty rearing its head. But 13% to 100% is too far of a stretch to believe that bias on both sides is not at issue.