Administrative law judges who evaluate disability claims for the Social Security Administration want a federal court to ease a workload that they say makes errors more likely - the latest in a series of challenges confronting the agency.
In a federal lawsuit filed this month, 1,400 judges said the agency's expectation that they decide as many as 700 claims per year is causing them to rush evaluations and possibly approve claims that should be denied, at a potential cost of millions of taxpayer dollars.
"The Social Security Administration seems to care only about quotas," said Judge Randall Frye, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges. "Case quotas prevent judges from devoting necessary time to the most complex cases resulting in waste and abuse"²
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, comes as the judges try to make progress on a backlog that is keeping disabled individuals waiting hundreds of days for decisions. Congress, meanwhile, has been unable to agree on a fix to ensure the long-term financial stability of Social Security. And President Barack Obama has yet to name a successor to former Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, a Bush administration appointee who stepped down in February.
Carolyn Colvin, a former secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, is acting commissioner. Timonium, Md., lawyer Sharon Christie, who represents clients in disability claims, said the absence of a permanent leader is affecting the agency.
Clients appealing agency-level denials typically are waiting two years for a hearing, she said.
To cut through the backlog, she said, "you need someone at the top who is really strong in their leadership skills."
The Social Security Administration declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did the office of the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, which will represent the agency in court.