If the judge in my Social Security disability appeal works for the Social Security Administration, how can I be sure he will be fair to me?
(This is the seventh post in this series about the independence of the administrative law judge who will preside over your Social Security disability appeal.)
Congressman Darrell Issa, during his tenure as Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during the last Congress famously brought us scandal investigations from Benghazi to “Fast and Furious” to the IRS “attack” on the Tea Party. His hearings were characterized by a McCarthyesque circus atmosphere, a total lack of seriousness of purpose beyond damaging the political opposition, and selective leaks of partial information to willing and gullible journalists in search of something sensational that might garner headlines and bylines for themselves. Salon Magazine recently published an in memoriam tribute to his chairmanship that is a great read.
Issa selected the Social Security Disability program for one of his targets of opportunity. We noted previously that he enlisted SSA’s Inspector General Patrick O’Connell (a holdover from the Bush presidency), who obligingly targeted specific administrative law judges and reported back to Issa’s committee. O’Connell used SSA’s new “focused review” program to do this. Issa then called out the names of these ALJ’s in his report, attacking and insulting them in a very public way.
The Issa report concluded that:
- Focused reviews indicate numerous errors in high-allowance ALJ decision-making
- SSA allowed “incompetent and negligent” ALJs to continue deciding cases, thereby failing taxpayers and the “truly disabled”
- SSA developed arbitrary disposition targets and made them the cornerstone of the agency’s disability policy
- Disability lawyers who cash in on SSA’s current program structure create obstacles to reform
These claims will be explored in more detail in future posts, as they are the foundation of continuing Republican attacks on the Social Security Disability program.
What is most revealing about Issa’s Congressional investigation and report, however, is that of the 28 judges targeted by it, 11 no longer appear in the 2015 ALJ decision statistics. Applying Issa’s simplified type of statistical modeling reveals that if you are an ALJ that ends up in Congressional committee gun sights – well you have a 39% probability of losing your job.
That’s a pretty direct threat to the independence of administrative law judges.