Sunday, September 11, 2011

Electronic Folders ... the New SSA

We now live in two worlds.  In one world, people we live in the communication age with electronics dominating our activities.  In the other world, we live in the world of paper, real paper with edges and paper cuts.  Practicing law is no different, not even with the Social Security Adminstration

When I started this journey in 1985, files were all paper.  Attorneys or their designated employee or copy service traveled to the Office of Hearings and Appeals to make copies of paper files.  This laborious task required disassembling the files, removing staples, and running the exhibits through a copy machine.  So high tech services scanned the pages, only to print them out later.  The person making the copies had to reassemble all the exhibits into the folder.  The paper folders got transferred from the field offices to the disability determination services, back again ... twice usually.  Then the file would wind its way to the OHA hearing offices.  If the case went onto review to the Appeals Council, the file got shipped off to Falls Church, Virgina.  Extraordinary delays as paper got pushed back and forth through the system. 

Enter the age of electronics and the digitization of files.  The OHA became the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.  ODAR started sending and giving out discs with the claim files on them.  This created security issues.  To protect privacy, ODAR started encrypting discs that it mailed to the appointed representatives or to the unreprented claimants.  But now the process has turned up another notch. 

In the current age of file transmissions, representatives must sign up for the Electronics Records Epxress.  The ERE requires the erstwhile representative to log in through 3 layers of seurity to get to the client's file.  Viewing the TIF files as a photo is cumbersome and inefficient.  Reviewing the files in PDF requires a download and conversion or download as a PDF file.  The whole idea of securing the personal identifying information is a great idea but the keys for encryption on the representative end no longer comes automatically with possession of a password encrypted disc.  It requires the representative to install and operate encryption software on the end user computers. 

The whole process becomes cumbersome and costly.  Another barrier to the entry into the marketplace of representing the disabled in their pursuit of benefits denied by the federal bureaucracy.  As the federal government raises the cost of representing human beings, the federal government discourages representation.  The loser in the final analysis is the person that finds it more and more difficult to find quality representation by attorneys with new and fresh ideas.  That leaves the old guard in place with less competition from upstarts.  Having been an upstart and having been in the business long enough to be considered old guard, I like to see young people getting into the business and forcing competition. 

And that is the real problem.  Technology puts us all at risk for identity theft.  The winners in the battle agaist identity theft are the new parasitic industries that do not produce but only secure.  While we need security, the cost of security dampens the market and squeezes marginally profit businesses out.  Not a good result for the consumer ... not a good result at all. 

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