On a normal day, Administrative Law Judges working on disability cases for the Social Security Administration dispose of 3,000 cases. On Monday, Sept. 26, they adjudicated only 230, according to this excellent piece in today's Wall Street Journal.Why the huge slowdown in a $125 billion system with a burgeoning case load, in which impoverished people wait years to receive a benefit averaging about $1,000 per month? Is it some kind of wildcat judge strike? A computer crash? No. According to the Journal, the slowdown was ordered by Social Security Administrators trying to juke their production statistics in the coming fiscal year.
Top officials, in a bid to meet goals to win promotions or thousands of dollars in bonuses, directed many employees to refrain from issuing decisions on cases until next week, according to judges and union officials.As the Journal explains it, the federal fiscal year can have only 52 weeks. Because the calendar year is a day and a quarter longer than that, every five or six years there is an orphaned week that falls after the end of one fiscal year but before the beginning of the next. This is that week, so for the purposes of an incentive program put into place to speed the resolution of disability cases, everything done this week doesn't count toward the annual numerical targets.A field office director who operated as normal would thus be giving up ground to his colleagues who slowed or stopped work. Hence, the nationwide slowdown in case resolutions, which would appear to put all the managers on an equal footing:
"It's an indication of the philosophy of how the agency operates, that the numbers are more important than the service," said Witold Skwierczynski, president of a division of the American Federation of Government Employees labor union that represents many of the SSA employees who aren't judges and who also received the delay orders.Skwierczynski complained to higher ups and on Wednesday, the agency's chief judge, Debra Bice, sent a memo to all judges ordering them to close cases normally, the Journal reports.Too early to tell, statistically, whether the judges resumed their normal work pace after that.