09.07.16

Senators Lankford, Hatch Urge Social Security Administration for an Immediate Response on Disability Case Backlog

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) today sent a letter to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to request an immediate response on outstanding documents detailing how the transfer of cases from Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) to non-APA employees is legal. This initiative was announced earlier this year as a way to decrease the long Social Security Disability Insurance case backlog. 

“Given the substantial time that has passed since the initial inquiry and the quantity of specific Congressional requests pertaining to this issue that have gone unanswered, we have reason to believe you may be intent on protracted noncooperation,” the senators wrote. “Hopefully that is not the case. As stated, we seek to proceed together through this oversight process. To that end we hope to avoid resorting to compulsory processes to obtain these documents, and we look forward to your production of the relevant information.”

May 2015, Lankford held a hearing to address why the SSA postponed a new strategy to address the issues of backlog with ALJ hearings. The number of Americans waiting for a hearing to determine their eligibility for disability benefits is more than one million cases last year and the average wait for a hearing is 480 days. 

A PDF of the letter is available HERE, and the full text is below: 

The Honorable Carolyn W. Colvin

Acting Commissioner

Social Security Administration

6401 Security Blvd., West High Rise

Baltimore, MD 21235

Dear Ms. Colvin:

We write to express our escalating concern for your lack of a substantive response to the outstanding request for the documents furnished by the Office of General Counsel which supply the legal analysis and authority supporting the transfer of significant volumes of cases from ALJs to non-APA employees under the “Adjudication Augmentation Strategy” (AAS) section of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Compassionate and Responsive Services (CARES) initiative. As you know, a satisfactory response would include an unredacted copy of the “relevant memorandum” you identified in your May 5, 2016 correspondence and all documents, including drafts or prior versions, responsive to question “2” of the April 5, 2016 letter from Senator Lankford. This correspondence marks the seventh request from members of Congress or their staff for this document(s).

We want to be helpful and seek to understand your apprehension with respect to producing the memoranda and all drafts or prior versions of the document(s). The claim that attorney-client privilege protects these documents from being produced to Congress is patently without merit. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the Constitution clearly intended for Congress to possess broad oversight authority through its implied investigatory powers.

Given the substantial time that has passed since the initial inquiry and the quantity of specific Congressional requests pertaining to this issue that have gone unanswered, we have reason to believe you may be intent on protracted noncooperation. Hopefully that is not the case. As stated, we seek to proceed together through this oversight process. To that end we hope to avoid resorting to compulsory processes to obtain these documents, and we look forward to your production of the relevant information.

If you have any questions about this correspondence, please contact James Mann with Senator Lankford’s staff at (202) 224-3823, Warren Flatau with Senator Heitkamp’s staff at (202) 224-5635, or Jeff Wrase with Senator Hatch’s staff at (202) 224-3476.  We prefer to receive all documents in electronic format. Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Senator James Lankford, Oklahoma

Senator Orrin Hatch, Utah 

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