Federal News Service September 30, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: JOINT HEARING OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY SUBCOMMITTEE AND THE HUMAN RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE SUBJECT: THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY'S PROPOSAL TO IMPROVE THE DISABILITY PROCESS
CHAIRED BY: REPRESENTATIVE E. CLAY SHAW JR. (R-FL)
WITNESSES PANEL I: JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION;
HAL DAUB, CHAIRMAN, SOCIAL SECURITY ADVISORY BOARD; RONALD E. BUFFALOE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SOCIAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATIONS; MARTHA A. MARSHALL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF DISABILITY EXAMINERS; C. RICHARD DANN, M.D., UNION OF AMERICAN PHYSICIANS AND DENTISTS, AND AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY, AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES;
SHEILA EVERETT, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF DISABILITY DETERMINATION DIRECTORS;
MARTY FORD, CO-CHAIR, SOCIAL SECURITY TASK FORCE, CONSORTIUM FOR CITIZENS WITH DISABILITIES; THOMAS D. SUTTON, VICE-PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF SOCIAL SECURITY CLAIMANTS' REPRESENTATIVES;
JAMES A. HILL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL TREASURY EMPLOYEES UNION; LAURA ZINK, MEMBER, FEDERAL MANAGERS ASSOCIATION, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION;
RONALD G. BERNOSKI, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGES LOCATION: 1100 LONGWORTH HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
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REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI): Thank you. Actually, I had two questions. One was about the ALJ and the backlog. So I think you've covered that pretty well. First of all, thank you for this streamlining proposal. I think it's overdue and I'm very glad to hear you're implementing it. I just had a quick question. You may not be prepared to answer it. I just want an update on the Chicago Milwaukee situation in the clean-up operation that's going on there. And if you're not prepared, if you could just send me something in writing, that would be great.
MS. BARNHART: I'd be happy to submit-provide information, writing to you a complete update of what's going on. I can tell you some information that you may be interested in terms of the workload and what's going on. I wish I could report to you that the situation had eased incredibly in Milwaukee in terms of the backlog. Unfortunately, it has not. We received 5,299 hearing requests this fiscal year to date. This is as of August and I will have fiscal year data in approximately another 15 days. We have actually disposed of 3,635 hearings.
REP. RYAN: Three thousand what?
MS. BARNHART: Three thousand six hundred and thirty-five of those hearings. The processing time has averaged 413 days. That is an improvement from last year. It was 438 days.
REP. RYAN: And some of the new ALJs are coming to this area?
MS. BARNHART: Excuse me. That's an improvement from June. I'm looking at June, July, August. It's an improvement on June with 438, 464 in July. This fiscal year to day, 413. So the average is creeping up in the processing. The pending for ALJ were 843 cases per ALJ and the total pending in the office is 8,435.
REP. RYAN: Are some of these ALJs coming to Milwaukee?
MS. BARNHART: Pardon.
REP. RYAN: Are you sending of your new ALJs to this region?
MS. BARNHART: Yes.
REP. RYAN: To Milwaukee and Chicago?
MS. BARNHART: Let me check and see. I'll tell you where they're going. I've got a list right here. Let's see. Yes, two of the judges are going to Milwaukee.
REP. RYAN: And the people who had their identities compromised-I won't go back through the problem we had-but the problem with the contract employees with respect to the records that got compromised in the Chicago office, is that all but settled now?
MS. BARNHART: It is absolutely settled.
REP. RYAN: I know everybody got a notice and everybody got a chance to redo their claims. Where are we in that process?
MS. BARNHART: To my knowledge, everything has been resolved and no one had any adverse effect as a result of that and actually, as of today, that contracting that we were doing was simply to move cases because with the onset of HPI in 2001, it really stalled our hearing process in the hearing offices and we just need to prepare cases. Those contracts, the remaining ones, terminate today and the approach that I'm using from this point on is we have five cadres basically, special regional units, that are going to be providing that service of case pulling that was previously done by contractors.
REP. RYAN: I mean, like Earl said and others, I think the paper list, the electronic files really is the big answer here. But I look forward-if you could just give me more details, if you have them, with respect to the Milwaukee thing. We are very concerned about the backlog. I'm sure you get this from other regions as well. But I'm glad you're sending some ALJs to Milwaukee because this is our case workers' biggest nightmare and I'm just pleased with the reforms. But hopefully we can clear this backlog as quickly as possible.
MS. BARNHART: I appreciate your concern and eliminating the backlog in disability has been one of my top priorities since I came into this job and the service delivery budget that I have crafted the last two years and we will be submitting again to OMB this year, you know, holds out as the goal elimination of the backlogs. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the last two years, we didn't get the budget request that we asked for as an agency because of productivity enhancements, the fact that, as Mr. Cardin pointed out and as he has seen firsthand many times, at our Baltimore headquarters, the staff works very hard in headquarters as well as out and across the country, we have managed to keep backlogs from growing greater than they have. But they are still growing and the first step in eliminating backlogs is being able to have enough trained, experienced people on staff to be able to do the work. And of course, we had the technical stumbling block of not being able to hire ALJs. But then we have the resource limitation we may face next year.
REP. RYAN: Right. Thanks.
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