AALJ JUDGE WORK ANALYSIS STUDY
On November 12, 2015, nationally recognized experts issued a report analyzing the work of the Social Security Administration’s Administrative Law Judges. This study is the only scientifically-conducted examination of the adjudicatory process mandated by SSA. Leaetta Hough, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized expert in the field of Industrial Psychology, and HumRRO, a well-known consultant firm; both have been contractors for a number of federal agencies, including the Office of Personnel Management, the Social Security Administration, and NASA. The study was conducted with volunteer LAR judges who simulated adjudication of actual cases; for this, we utilized closed case files obtained from representatives, with the permission of the claimants involved.
A number of significant findings were reached by the study, including that it takes 7 hours to adjudicate an average size case (650 pages) if a judge reads all the evidence and follows all regulations, rulings and policies of the Social Security Administration. Our findings completely refute the agency’s contention that it only takes 2.5 hours on average to adjudicate a case. Even if a judge did not use any annual or sick leave time, take any breaks during the day, and worked every federal holiday, the judge would still have only 4.2 hours to devote to each case. Given the importance of each decision, both to the claimants and the trust fund (each case has a value of $350,000), spending sufficient time to reach a correct result is an imperative. Case file size increased by about 25% between 2011 and 2014 (we are still waiting for the 2015 data from the agency). The data shows that in some offices 25% of the files have over 1000 pages in the medical section and that the average case has a total of 652 pages. The study also concluded that an average of 29 hours a month is spent on non-adjudicatory duties such as mandatory training, staff meetings, completing financial disclosure reports, answering management emails, and the like.
This study makes clear that the Agency must reduce the expectations for scheduling cases, that we must have more time to adjudicate cases, that the agency must loosen-up their requirements (for example, that the judges provide overly-detailed decisional instructions per Judge Bice’s July 2013 memo), and that the agency must provide more clerical, legal and writing support.
This link below will take you to the full report:
Michael Chafetz, PhD - Symptom Validity Testing
Establishing the validity of the evidence is the cornerstone of any accurate disability determination. The American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN) has recently sponsored an expert guidance article to help SSA with the rationale and transition for a change to proper validity assessment in disability examinations. The article promotes the shift from self-report, which is often unverifiable, to objective validity assessment, which can provide consultative examiners, DDS reviewers, and ALJs with the proper tools for more accurate disability determinations: