Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the growth in the
backlog of pending cases at the Social Security Administration's
(SSA) Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA), focusing on SSA
initiatives to: (1) reduce backlogged cases; and (2) make the
disability appeals process more timely and efficient. GAO found
that: (1) the growth in OHA backlogs is a direct result of
increased applications and appeals to OHA, as well as SSA
inattention to long-standing problems; (2) these problems include
multiple levels of claims development and decisionmaking,
fragmented program accountability, decisional disparities between
disability determination services and OHA adjudicators, and SSA
failure to communicate its management authority over administrative
law judges (ALJ); (3) SSA initiated short-and long-term efforts to
manage its disability determination and appeals process in 1994;
(4) the SSA Short-Term Disability Plan (STDP) should reduce OHA
backlogs to a manageable level by December 1996; (5) STDP relies on
the temporary reallocation of SSA resources and process changes to
stem the flow of cases requiring ALJ hearings; (6) start-up delays
and limited timeframes have affected SSA ability to reduce the
number of backlogged cases; (7) SSA tracks and monitors STDP
allowances to ensure decisional accuracy; (8) the SSA redesign plan
is aimed at addressing systemic problems within the SSA disability
program and reducing claims processing; (9) the redesign plan is
still in its early stages, and does not address the types of
management actions that are legally permissible for ALJ hearings;
and (10) many ALJ believe that they are legally exempt from
management control, and SSA is frustrated in its efforts to manage
the appeals process and reduce the number of pending cases.
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