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Investigation Finds Intentional Social Security Disability Case Delays

March 23, 2012

Washington, DC – An investigation requested by Ways and Means Committee Republicans and conducted by the Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that agency employees intentionally delayed deciding thousands of disability claims in order to boost their own productivity results.  The issue first surfaced in a Wall Street Journal report about a quirk in the fiscal year (FY) 2011 calendar affecting the processing of claims.  SSA employees’ inaction was reportedly intended to boost managers’ FY2012 performance numbers with no impact on their FY2011 numbers – raising questions about whether disability benefits were postponed in an effort to secure performance bonuses for the managers.  The SSA OIG report specifically looked at hearing offices in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia.  

Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) stated : “It’s unconscionable and an abuse of taxpayer dollars for Social Security employees to intentionally delay claims to manipulate their own performance statistics.  This report raises serious concerns about the impacts of Social Security’s management policies on the people it serves.”

Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) commented : “Making folks wait an extra week for a decision on their appeal in order to manipulate personal performance results is just plain wrong.  These government workers put themselves before the public they are supposed to serve.  Social Security needs to fix this problem now.”

Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Geoff Davis (R-KY) added : “Management data is an important tool for any organization, especially one as large as Social Security.  Keeping track of how disability cases are moving through the system should encourage employees to better serve the public, not to hold up cases so they can look good.  Social Security needs to take a hard look at its policies to ensure they are consistently using taxpayer dollars in a responsible manner.”

The chart below shows the sharp decline of disability case processing in the 53rd week.


The key findings of the report, “Congressional Response Report: Oversight of Year-End Hearings Process,” are summarized below:

Since at least 1983, the Social Security Administration has not counted workload totals for the periodic 53rd week in its year-end management data.  During the week of September 24, 2011, week 53 in FY 2011, several disability hearing workloads decreased significantly.  Hearing decisions and dismissals were most affected and decreased almost 88 percent, compared to an average processing week the rest of the year.

The OIG survey of hearing office personnel in nine States found the majority processed workloads as usual during week 53. However, 17 percent of the respondents stated they changed their case processing. More than half of these individuals attributed the change to how workloads were being counted.

Though SSA headquarters management communicated that business as usual should go on during week 53, they also alerted employees that work processed would not be included in statistical year-end tallies.  While it appeared employees were working throughout week 53, local managers did not consistently communicate to employees the importance of continuing processing cases as usual.  

To prevent week 53 workload processing declines in the future, the OIG recommends that the SSA “clearly communicate a policy that explicitly states work will be processed and measured uniformly throughout all years, including those with 53 weeks.”