Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Social Security Administration's (SSA) decisionmaking process for disability determinations and efforts to improve the process, focusing on: (1) factors that contribute to differences between disability determination services' (DDS) and administrative law judges' (ALJ) decisions; and (2) SSA's actions to make decisions in initial and appealed cases more consistent.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Social Security Administration||1. SSA is beginning to implement initiatives to reduce inconsistent decisions between DDSs and ALJs, realizing that the lengthy and complicated decisionmaking process and inconsistent decisions between adjudicative levels compromise the integrity of disability determinations. SSA should take immediate steps and be accountable for ensuring that they are implemented as quickly as feasible. For example, using available quality assurance systems, SSA should move quickly ahead to improve feedback to adjudicators at all levels. In addition, to better ensure that adjudicators review the same record, the agency should increase the number of cases it plans to return to DDSs when new evidence is submitted on appeal.|
|Social Security Administration||2. Given the magnitude and seriousness of the problem, the Commissioner of Social Security should, under the Results Act, articulate the process unification results that the agency hopes to achieve and establish a performance goal by which it could measure and report its progress in shifting the proportion of cases awarded from the ALJ to the DDS level.|