Author: Catherine M. Callery (Kate)| Louise M. Tarantino

Has anyone noticed that hearings are being scheduled more quickly these days?  A comparison between average processing times published by Social Security for the month ending May 30, 2008, with the same period for 2009 shows an incremental improvement at a number of hearings sites. But the waiting time has actually increased at several New York ODAR (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review) sites: White Plains, Queens, and Syracuse.

Statistics on average processing times by number of days as of May 2009 at the various New York and New Jersey ODAR offices, published in the July 2009 edition of the NOSSCR Forum, are below.  The “rank” represents the office’s position among the 142 ODARs nationwide, ranging from shortest (1) to longest (142) processing time.  The numbers in parentheses are the rankings and processing times for the period ending in May 2008.

 32 (81)  Brooklyn  408 (500)
 51 (45)  White Plains  452 (425)
 55 (101)  Jericho  457 (554)
 64 (88)  Newark  478 (519)
 67 (63)  Queens  478 (462)
 83 (98)  New York  508 (545)
 89 (103)  Albany  518 (556)
 110 (127)  Buffalo  591 (665)
 125 (115)  Syracuse  623 (612)
 129 (109)  Bronx  640 (577)


For the New York region (Region 2) overall (which also includes Puerto Rico, Newark and Voorhees), the average waiting time as of May 2009 was 483 days, ranking 5th out of ten regions.  In May 2008, the New York region was ranked 7th, with an average processing time of 540 days.

While the jury may still be out in terms of the hard data above, SSA continues to tout its plan for reducing its backlog. See http://www.ssa.gov/hearingsbacklog.pdf for SSA’s 2007 Summary of Initiatives to Eliminate the SSA Hearings Backlog (the Plan); and http://www.ssa.gov/disability/Semiannual_Report_FY08.pdf for its semi annual report for 2008.  Among other objectives set forth in SSA’s Strategic Goals, SSA hopes to reduce the number of pending hearings to 466,000 by FY 2013, and reduce the time its takes a claimant to receive a hearing decision to an average of 270 days.  See http://www.ssa.gov/asp/StrategicGoal1.pdf.

According to a report issued in September 2009 by the General Accountability Office (GAO), SSA’s Plan should help the agency reduce its hearings-level backlog.  The likelihood that SSA will eliminate the backlog within its projected time-frame, however,  depends on the extent to which SSA’s assumptions for improved Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hiring, availability, and productivity are achieved in practice.  Both SSA and the GAO agree that SSA has about a 78% chance of achieving its goal.  According to the GAO, however, that is dependent upon achieving significantly increased ALJ productivity levels and meeting its ALJ hiring goals.  A misstep in either of these would reduce SSA’s chances for meeting its 2013 goal to 34% and 53% respectively.

The GAO also expressed concern that SSA’s Plan could have unintended consequences, including a potential effect on decisional quality and accuracy.  It also criticized SSA’s Plan because it does not include a systematic approach to identify and address these unintended consequences.  It noted that the Plan, while including some components of sound planning, failed to include some key management information.  This criticism was echoed in a report from SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued in August 2009, which evaluated ODAR’s current management information and Information Technology Advisory Board proposals.

GAO-09-398 – Additional Performance Measures and Better Cost Estimates Could Help Improve SSA’s Efforts to Eliminate Its Hearings Backlog – is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09398.pdf.  The OIG report – ODAR Management Information  (A-07-09-29162) – is available at http://www.ssa.gov/oig/ADOBEPDF/audittxt/A-07-09-29162.htm.