Social Security Disability:

SSA Actions to Reduce Backlogs and Achieve More Consistent Decisions Deserve High Priority

T-HEHS-97-118: Published: Apr 24, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 1997.

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GAO discussed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) actions to reduce the current backlog of cases appealed to the agency's administrative law judges, focusing on: (1) how functional assessments, differences in procedures, and quality review contribute to inconsistent results between different decisionmakers; and (2) SSA'a strategy to obtain greater decisional consistency.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's work shows that while SSA has developed broad-based plans to improve the management of its disability programs, many initiatives are just beginning and their effectiveness can be assessed only after a period of full-scale implementation; (2) for example, in the short term, SSA has taken action to try to deal with the backlog crisis, but it is still about 116,000 cases over its December 1996 goal of 375,000 cases; (3) in the longer term, SSA needs to come to grips with the systemic factors causing inconsistent decisions, which underlie the current high level of appealed cases and, in turn, the backlog crisis; (4) for example, GAO found that differences in assessments of functional capacity, different procedures, and weaknesses in quality reviews contribute to inconsistent decisions; and (5) although SSA is on the verge of implementing initiatives to deal with these factors, GAO is concerned that other congressionally mandated workload pressures, such as significantly increasing the number of continuing disability reviews and readjudicating childhood cases, could jeopardize the agency's ability to move ahead with its initiatives to reduce inconsistent decisions.

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