Social Security Administration Policies for Managing Its Administrative Law Judges

HRD-81-91: Published: Jun 2, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 1981.

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GAO was requested to review several issues concerning whether the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Administrative Law Judges (ALJ's) are required to hear a certain number of cases a year or are limited in the number of reversals they can make. In addition, an assessment was requested of the impact on the ability of ALJ's to conduct fair and proper hearings if SSA has such policies regarding production and reversal rates.

GAO found that ALJ's were concerned about several management initiatives to improve productivity and monitor or influence reversal rates. Generally, ALJ's believed that these initiatives violated statutory provisions against performance ratings for ALJ's and interfered with the judicial independence required by the Administrative Procedure Act. The Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) did not maintain a policy of initiating removal actions against the ALJ's who failed to dispose of certain cases within a certain timeframe or have high reversal rates. Major concerns that were expressed by the ALJ's include: (1) letters soliciting ways management could assist them in improving their productivity; (1) guidelines distributed by the OHA central office for the effective use of staff attorneys to the regional chief ALJ; (3) OHA experiments in six hearing offices to determine if productivity can be increased by removing certain functions from the responsibility of the ALJ's; (4) pressure to produce cases because OHA publishes ranked lists of ALJ disposition rates; (5) the deputy chief ALJ visited one of the hearing offices because of concerns expressed by the SSA regional commissioner; and (6) the 1979 OHA Appeals Council proposed a study of high and low reversing ALJ's. The SSA associate commissioner stated that he has neither imposed, directly or indirectly, a production quota nor has he threatened to initiate removal action if an ALJ did not produce a specified amount of work within a given timeframe.

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