Social Security Administration:
Systems Support Could Improve Processing Attorney Fee Payments in the Disability Program
GAO-01-710T, May 17, 2001
To ensure that people claiming disability insurance program benefits can obtain legal representation at a fair price, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to regulate the fees that attorneys charge people to represent their disability claims before the agency. Balancing the needs of the claimants with those of their attorneys, the law limits the amount of fees that attorneys can charge claimants, but also guarantees that those fees will be paid from the claimants' past-due benefits. Inefficiencies in the current process increase both the time it takes to pay the attorney fees and the cost of administration. One segment of attorney fee processing--the fee approval process--was substantially simplified in 1991. Systems support could streamline the second segment of the processing--the fee payment--thus lowering the annual administrative costs and cutting processing time. Automation of this final segment of the fee process could help improve customer service for both claimants and their attorneys.