The Disability Backlog

One of the major problems for the tremendous increase in the disability backlog is the chronic shortage of support staff to prepare cases for hearing and to write decisions for the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). There must be a higher ratio of support staff for ALJs to handle the never ending increase in workload.

While it is recognized that Commissioner Astrue has implemented numerous initiatives by way of shortcuts and other means which have streamlined the disability process, such initiatives have created serious morale problems, as well as an environment that fosters a belief that processing cases faster is better. Regarding the latter, this belief ignores the legal and ethical obligations of each employee in processing his/her caseload and such thinking places due process secondary.

Many of Commissioner Astrue’s initiatives have created an overwhelming number of non-hands-on case workers while making the hearing offices sweatshops. At present, there is, on the average, one management official for every six support staffers to the ALJs within hearing offices. In addition, the Regional Offices and the Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge have grown with increased staffers while denying hearing offices the necessary staff to support the ALJs. Such manipulation of full-time employees is one of the causes for the backlog, noting these non-hands-on case workers are substantially higher-graded workers than the support staff in the hearing offices.

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