Social Security Administration fails to reduce initial claims backlog due to funding

In a report,   The Social Security Administration’s Progress in Reducing the Initial Disability Claims Backlog released on April 28, 2014, the Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) examined the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) efforts to reduce its initial disability claims backlog. The OIG found that the SSA has failed to reduce its backlog to projected goals and recommended that the SSA create new goals and try to implement them.
As background, the SSA in November 2010 released a report on its strategy to reduce initial disability claims.  They outlined a four part plan:  (1) increase staffing at Disability Determination Services (“DDS”), (2) improve efficiency through automation; (3) expand the use of screening tools to streamline claims likely to be allowed, and (4) refine policies and business processes to expedite cases.
The OIG examined each of these four areas.  As to increased staffing, they noted that from Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2008-2010, the number of DDS employees increased by 3000.  Also by the end of FY 2010, the SSA had over an additional 400 disability examiners at its federal disability processing units compared to FY 2008.
As to their goal of automating processes, the OIG noted that SSA has initiated several systems.  (They did not evaluate how well these were working.)
In the third area, the SSA has increased its ability to screen the most severely disabled claimants through two new programs – compassionate allowances and quick disability determinations.  In FY 2014, the SSA expects to identify 6.1 percent of all disability cases using these programs, up from 4.6 percent in FY 2010.
As to the fourth area, SSA has refined its polices and business processes to expedite case processing but the OIG did not state how well this was working.
The OIG also noted that the SSA has initiated other programs to increase efficiency and reduce the backlog.  These included the creation of a “Disability Case Processing System” and a “National Vendor File.”  The systems are not yet fully instituted.
The SSA’s efforts in these areas worked at the beginning.  Initial disability claims pending decreased for 3 consecutive years from a high of 842,000 in FY 2008 to 698,000 in FY 2013.  SSA was striving for a goal of 525,000 initial disability claims for 2014.  Unfortunately they did not make it.  The SSA indicated that the inability to reach this goal was due to decreased and/or uncertain funding.  They have not been able to replace staff losses at DDS offices.  As a result, DDS staffing in FY 2013 was the same as it was in FY 2008.  Moreover, in FY 2013, initial claims receipts were almost 15% higher than they were in FY 2008.  While SSA felt they could keep processing times at a reasonable level, they could no longer reach their goal of reducing the backlog.  They therefore were no longer striving to reach their goal or any goal.
The OIG recommended that SSA create a new goal given the funding that they have been given.  The SSA agreed with OIG’s recommendation and in comments to the report, has now stated that their goal is 642,000 for FY 2014 with a processing time of 109 days.

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