Hiring new judges to speed SSA claims

Federal Workers

November 02, 2007|By Melissa Harris

The Social Security Administration can start hiring the judges needed to speed the processing of disability claims now that a new list of candidates qualified for the job is available.

This week, the Office of Personnel Management released a new roster of more than 600 ready-to-hire administrative law judges, said Mike Orenstein, a spokesman for the agency.

All candidates on the old list were invited to reapply, and the number of new applicants suggests that the old roster of more than 1,700 qualified lawyers was outdated.

Administrative judges are in high demand at the Woodlawn-based SSA, where more than 700,000 people are waiting for verdicts on their applications for disability benefits.

Many disabled people must wait almost a year and a half on average for a hearing with an administrative judge.

The jobs are among the most sought-after in government, offering a six-figure salary, a lifetime appointment and considerable independence within the agency, which the judges often overrule.

Given the judges' power and length of appointment, the hiring process is far more complicated than that for the typical civil servant. Candidates must pass an exam and have seven years of relevant experience. Candidates are then ranked on a scale.

The SSA has funding, starting in April, to hire 150 new administrative law judges and 92 support staff members to begin clearing the backlog of disability cases. It will be the largest class of administrative judges in the agency's history.

"Under our collective bargaining agreement, we have to let the existing ALJs who want to move into openings move first," said Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue. "We're required to go through a musical chairs process. That adds a couple of months to the process."

Budget battle

Congress is preparing for a budget fight this month as Democrats consider lumping together military and health spending bills to get around President Bush's promise to veto an extra $10 billion in funding for social services and education.

The federal government is operating under a continuing resolution that expires Nov. 16.

Some pundits are drawing comparisons with the budget showdown of 1995.

The government shut down then as the newly Republican-controlled Congress tried to flex its muscle against President Bill Clinton.

The writer welcomes your comments and feedback. She can be reached at melissa.harris@ baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Back issues can be read at baltimoresun.com/federal.

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