SSA Sets Record for Administrative Law Judge Hires

What’s the issue?

Reducing the hearings pending is one of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) FY 2016– 2017 Agency Priority Goals (APG) and hiring 250 Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) by the end of FY 2016 was a major component of achieving our goal.  ALJs are our primary decision makers in the SSA disability hearings process. SSA works with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to acquire a list of potential candidates to hire from OPM’s ALJ registry. From 1999 through 2008, OPM’s ALJ registry was not updated which led to severe staffing shortfalls in the early 2000s. The number of hires did not keep pace with the growing number of pending cases and the attrition of approximately 100 ALJs each year, who leave primarily due to retirement. The inability to hire ALJs, the number of retiring ALJs, and several years of tightening budgets impacted pending levels and hearing wait times negatively. As SSA investigated solutions for the crisis of over one million Americans waiting for their hearing decision, it was imperative that SSA not only replace ALJ attrition losses, but also increase the overall number of available ALJs to handle the increased workload. 

What was the intervention?

It was necessary to attack this problem from multiple angles.  First, in an effort to create partnerships with our stakeholders, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) facilitated collaboration between OPM, SSA, and the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS). This robust consortium discussed SSA’s need for various flexibilities, such as continuously refreshed candidate registers and accommodating geographic locations.


Second, SSA’s Analytics Center of Excellence (ACE) assisted by conducting in-depth analysis for the hearings pending Agency Priority Goal.  ACE’s aged case disposition forecasts guided the agency in developing and managing its goals.  ACE also created a workload management tool to help balance workloads and complete aged cases.


Finally, the Bi-Partisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2015 (H.R. 1314) energized collaborative efforts between SSA and OPM.  Section 846 of the BBA directed that SSA may request that OPM hold additional examinations for the purpose of hiring ALJs as needed.  SSA and OPM began weekly meetings to discuss the hiring process and the unique needs of the SSA hearings operation. Together, they worked on a creative solution for improving ALJ hiring efficiencies 

How was performance management useful?

The Strategic Review and FedStat meetings provide an excellent forum for agencies to discuss challenges and actions needed to help achieve agency goals.  During these meetings, SSA discussed with OMB difficulties with attracting and retaining ALJs to meet the increasing hearings workloads.  SSA’s performance management framework also provided the forum for keeping the increasing hearings pending and ALJ hiring needs in the forefront.  In meetings with leadership and through their agency reporting documents, SSA worked diligently to get decision makers to take notice and provide action.  The ongoing increased focus led to securing language in the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2015 to expedite the hiring of ALJs.

What was the impact?

In January 2016, SSA initiated the plan for Compassionate And Responsive Service (CARES) to address the urgency of one million people waiting for a hearing decision on their disability claims. The CARES plan required sustained and adequate funding in the future to expand the number of ALJs and increase the number of hearings completed.


Through the weekly collaboration meetings between SSA and OPM, the agencies addressed several areas for improvement.  SSA assisted with an aggressive recruitment campaign for the ALJ examination, which was released on USA Jobs in March 2016. Throughout the year, OPM continuously updated the register of candidates, allowing SSA to conduct three rounds of hiring. SSA successfully hired a total of 264 ALJs in FY 2016. This not only exceeded the goal of 250 ALJs, but also set a record of the number of ALJs hired by SSA in a single fiscal year.  Our FY 2016 hiring keeps us on track to return to a hearings wait time of 270 days by FY 2020, although sustaining our progress requires adequate funding so that we can hire 250 ALJs again in FY 2017 and FY 2018, as well as additional support staff.