Social Security Disability:

Backlog Reduction Efforts Under Way; Significant Challenges Remain

HEHS-96-87: Published: Jul 11, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 13, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the growth in the backlog of pending cases at the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA), focusing on SSA initiatives to: (1) reduce backlogged cases; and (2) make the disability appeals process more timely and efficient.

GAO found that: (1) the growth in OHA backlogs is a direct result of increased applications and appeals to OHA, as well as SSA inattention to long-standing problems; (2) these problems include multiple levels of claims development and decisionmaking, fragmented program accountability, decisional disparities between disability determination services and OHA adjudicators, and SSA failure to communicate its management authority over administrative law judges (ALJ); (3) SSA initiated short-and long-term efforts to manage its disability determination and appeals process in 1994; (4) the SSA Short-Term Disability Plan (STDP) should reduce OHA backlogs to a manageable level by December 1996; (5) STDP relies on the temporary reallocation of SSA resources and process changes to stem the flow of cases requiring ALJ hearings; (6) start-up delays and limited timeframes have affected SSA ability to reduce the number of backlogged cases; (7) SSA tracks and monitors STDP allowances to ensure decisional accuracy; (8) the SSA redesign plan is aimed at addressing systemic problems within the SSA disability program and reducing claims processing; (9) the redesign plan is still in its early stages, and does not address the types of management actions that are legally permissible for ALJ hearings; and (10) many ALJ believe that they are legally exempt from management control, and SSA is frustrated in its efforts to manage the appeals process and reduce the number of pending cases.

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