SSA has several office locations with available openings that cover areas quite a distance from the duty office location. How much traveling is done by SSA ALJ's to hold hearings in locations away from the duty locations? If this happens often, I might consider eliminating some locations in climates with very bad winters.Driving 2 hours each way in blizzard conditions doesn't sound too appealing. Any help would be appreciated.
More and more of our hearings from remote locations are being done by video conference, which cuts down on the travel. Also, I believe non-video hearings in remote locations are blocked such that the ALJ will be there for at least a couple of days. The actual travel involved varies by office, but my understanding is that the travel is much less than it used to be.
Again, there is no one answer. Offices differ greatly. My office has had 1 remote location about an hour away and in recently proposed realignment, we will pick up a location in another state and region, 3+ hours away by car and 4 hours away by train.
But with the number of judges in oure office, 10, there are not sufficient cases for us to hear so we are assisting other offices. I took four 2-week travel dockets to Spokane, WA, and to Eugene, OR. Now I have been to Meridian, MS, for 2 week dockets and another 2 weeks are planned in August.
Judges have the option to travel or use video hearings, so it pretty much falls into what you prefer doing. This may also depend on the number of video hearing rooms available. Some offices have very little travel and others a great deal, so depends on a particular office. As for travel itself, I have never driven to another location. I usually fly, but the train is a nice option occasionally.
We have two remote locations that are covered by video and two that require travel. The travel locations are approximately 2 hours away and are usually only 1 day trips. It's rare that they schedule overnights, but it does happen. Some of the ALJ's will not travel during winter months. We also currently haul the recording equipment to one of the remotes. We too frequently have problems with equipment failure, but that's another story. Eventually, I think, the remotes will be covered by video; but I don't know when that will happen. We have the option of driving our own vehcile and getting reimbursed for mileage (no reimbursement for meals unless it's overnight) or we can have rental cars.
biker- This is slightly off topic, but I read a post like yours and it just makes me crazy. Why are you hauling equipment? Your job is to hear and decide cases. When they tried that nonsense in my office. . . "and the judges will transport the recording equipment to the remote locations," I raised my hand and said, "no." Since I was the newest judge in the office, it took them a bit to get over the shock, but that was the end of it. They found a place to store the equipment at our multiple remote sites and the hearing reporter sets it up and tears it down. They tried it again with this e-business process. . . "and the judges will input all of the codes. . ." and again I said, "not gonna." Don't get the wrong impression, I am no prima donna. However, I am not a teamster or a clerk either. To the new hires- you are a victim of fraud; a bait and switch. SSA told you they were hiring you to be a judge. Wait until you get a load of your new employer-- you are going to be asked to be a clerk, a secretary, a sherpa. Your chief judge is going to ask you to write your own decisions, stand by a fax machine and fax evidence into an electronic folder, input numbers into their tracking system, and the list goes on. You will be told (by management and by your fellow judges), "its just as easy for the judge to do it. . ." Well, its just as easy for me to answer the phone at the front desk if I am standing there but there is a reason I don't. Is there not an assembly of your co-workers who are being paid to do those jobs? Are you not being asked (daily) for more decisions, more, more, more! So, please y'all, if you take this job, act like judges; hear and decide these cases. And when your fearless leaders propose yet another duty for you to take on, take a breath and think about it before you agree.
woody is the perfect example of someone who wanted to be an Article III judge but couldn't cut it, so he's taking it out on everyone else around him.
The comment in this post about not hauling a-v equipment is correct, there are better ways to do it than have the ALJ taking care of it. But the second part of the post went off the deep end, so I couldn't resist seeing what other gems woody posted in the past.
Count me int HATE category now too. Love the regular hours and the regular paycheck. But if it were not for 'closely approaching advanced age' a mortgage and a couple of kids in college would go back to being a prosecutor.
Nothing like a man who's working only because of a paycheck. So he takes his wage slave frustration out on everyone else around him.
Mango- Take this under consideration. . . When I first started years ago I spent many, many hours reviewing the files before the hearings. I basically conducted the entire hearing and the attorneys sat there being useless. Two things became a source of frustration: 1) evidence came in at or after the hearing that changed the entire character of the case or the claimant did not show, in either situation making all of that file review time wasted and 2) the attorneys were getting paid $5300 a case and I was doing all of the work.
In thinking about it, I asked myself the following question- who's case is it and who has the burden of proof here? Not mine, not me. So, now I do not do any file review prior to the hearing, I take a quick look and know that its a back/mental case or whatever. The attorney conducts the entire hearing. Most of the attorneys who appear before me do not work their case until the notice of hearing goes out, so most cases go into POST after the hearing. Once the file is complete, I review it and make the decision. Therefore, one review only with decision while the info is completely fresh.
The downside- in a small percentage of cases I come across something after the hearing that needs clarification and I write to the attorney and get it. I would never schedule an expert before a hearing (Remands the exception) because the files are rarely complete going in and because in our office we don't get the files before they are scheduled to review anyway. So sometimes I have to schedule a supplemental hearing for a VE after I review the file. But this effort pales in comparison to the time I was using up reviewing the file before the hearing.
The upside- after the initial shock, word got out and the attorneys know they are going to be held to their burden of proof and have to conduct the hearing. I feel better knowing that at least they are earning some of their fee. The better ones come more prepared and after they lost a couple because I found something they should have, they are more likely to look at the evidence they are sending in and address obvious problems with the evidence.
As for unrepped, over time you will get a better feeling for how to hold it on the fly and make a quick review of a file.
I know I will be criticized for this approach and would have criticized myself 10 years ago. But again, I function as the judge. The claimant has the burden of proof and the attorney has to help him meet it.
So now he doesn't bother reviewing the file and blames it on the reps. Sure, there are some reps who are useless, but then there are others who are working hard. Just like we got ALJs who are worthless and . . .
Two wrong doesn't make one right, but hey, nothing quite like collecting that 160k paycheck without doing any of the heavy lifting.
aaa echos my point earlier in this thread. I think the biggest mistake any of us in this organization can make is to assume management duties when we are not management- especially in light of the extremely adversarial position adopted by our current leader. After nearly a decade as an alj, I sure don't feel like I am part of any 'team' not when the captain of my team likes to blame the entire backlog on me in sworn testimony to Congress. Our job is to hear and decide cases. I don't set goals, nobody consults me on goals, and I certainly don't buy into any. And whatever 'goals' you buy in to this year will be your quota next year plus 100.
I flex on Fridays and its by far my most productive day. So if management wants me to look at a case they have learned to get it me by a reasonable time on Thursday, and they have. Its management's job to motivate that writer who waits until the end of the month to get the case in, not mine. Anybody who handled my cases got told not to hold on to anything, we work as hard every week of the month. But I won't sign crap just because its the end of the month. Wouldn't you know, management caught on and now the whole office is away from the end of month madness.
You will not hurt my feelings if you say I'm not a team player. I started out with an entirely different attitude, but it only came back to bite me in the butt. Every time the alj's bail out management, management is not motivated to fix anything. Every time I remembered what my job is- to hear and decide cases- not shlep equipment, not worry about goals, not solve their mistakes, at least I don't make the job worse for the rest of us. So I think I'm part of the solution.
You're the perfect example of what's wrong with some of the sitting ALJs. Allegedly somewhere along the way he got burned and now he's showing how high and mighty he is to the rest of the world.
I had the pleasure of working for some ALJs like you in the past, and I despised that attitude. That everything is your way or the highway, and that just because you got the job and some job security, you can treat everyone else around you like dirt.
Anyway, you sound like an awfully unhappy guy. So please enjoy your personal misery. Maybe go hang out with the people on the AALJ board seem awfully similar to you. Just don't throw it around too much and hit the rest of us with it.
orly- you are completely correct on some counts- I am extremely unhappy in this job. But you are wrong on other counts. Nope, never wanted to be an Article III judge, but I already was a state alj when SSA came a'calling so I knew how to do the job. And I had already been a trial lawyer so I knew how to present a case. Wrong again- I review every page of these files; I just wait until after the file is complete, which in my office is rarely prior to the hearing. And I treat everyone around me with dignity and respect. However, I don't do their work. The only people who have anything bad to say about me are the slackers because they don't get away with it with me. If you give me a work=up where the birthday, alleged onset, dli, issues, and filing date are wrong its going to come back. If you give me a draft where you made no attempt at all to follow my instructions it will need a re-write. If you don't bother to get an rfc from a treating source or find out that your client has been working, your client is not likely to get paid. The good employees, the good writers and the good representatives don't have a bad word to say, actually. And I stand by every word I previously said. So are you one of those who says "how high?" when management asks you to jump?
Woody, I'm not here to argue with you. The issue of transporting equipment really wasn't where I wanted to go. However, you have brought up an argument that has been ongoing at my office and other offices as well. There are those who argue as you do regarding the changing duties of ALJ's; many argue that we are taking on more and more duties that are more clerical in nature. Then there are those that argue they were hired to do a job and will do whatever it takes to do that job. I doubt there will ever be a resolution that's satisfactory to all, but I will agree that the job isn't getting any easier. Coincidentally, we received an email this week referring to CJB 07-07 which "requires" the ALJ to transport equipment to temporary remote sites. Here's the link: policynet.ba.ssa.gov/reference.nsf/links/09262007093205AM As for those going throught the hiring process now: good luck, this may not be a "dream" job but it is a very good one in my opinion and I love doing it in spite of the hard work and pressure. Hang in there.
Biker- I stayed off these boards for years because I got tired of arguing with those folks to whom you refer. But our association is negotiating our contract as we speak and I am more than concerned. The argument needs to be had and this has prompted me to speak out. I was told that I was being hired to be an ALJ. An ALJ hears and decides cases. I do that job every day and am reasonably productive in spite of all the obstacles placed in my way (i.e. being out in the field with equipment that doesn't work, again). Under the current COSS there has been a serious erosion of the position fully supported by those willing to do 'whatever it takes.' But at what cost? At what point are those folks going to say enough? With the problem being that the behavior of some of us affects us all day-to-day and in these negotiations. To those of you who were blindly willing to lug around recording equipment- when your agreement ends up a requirement for the rest of us, what about the weaker or disabled aljs who can't? What about those aljs working in the frozen tundras? To those of you spending minutes every day, hours every year inputting data into a tracking system-- when that becomes a requirement what are you going to say when the clerks lose their jobs and management wants to know why you are producing fewer cases? To those of you (including in my office) coming in nights and weekends so you can meet the 500 case quota-- when the day comes that you want to work a 40 hour week, what are you going to say to management about your production going down? What are you going to do next year when they want 600? Refusing to do clerical or non-judicial duties is not a bad thing; it merely frees us up to do what they said they hired us to do.
Orly are you able to maintain productivity while still doing some non-judicial tasks?
woody besides having to do clerical tasks, what else makes you unhappy about the job?
And on a funny note: I'm sure if we had a VE present, the VE would say jobs and job requirements change. But I understand your frustration about job requirements and responsibilities changing. However, I will say that if it weren't for doing all of the extra work we did, I wouldn't feel qualified now to be an ALJ. Our office as well has been inundated with cases. We've worked nights and weekends when we can. More attorneys have been hired and that's been helpful. So hopefully your office will be getting new ALJs who will help with decreasing the backlog and giving needed relief to you all.
Post by propmaster on May 31, 2010 14:39:23 GMT -5
I've never been a fan of slippery slope arguments. Not every slope is slippery. Not every inch given results in a mile taken.
At my office, the HOD and the HOCALJ lead by example - you will find them putting together furniture, stamping mail, helping at reception - and still finding time to go through the office each morning to say hello and each evening to say good bye. This is good management, and it echoes the excellent performance of every person in an ODAR who is trying to accomplish the goal of properly deciding the legal cases of potentially disabled claimants, rather than worrying about the dilution of their "very important" judge job.
[P.S. Being a state ALJ did not mean you "know the job," as state ALJs may (I don't know, maybe not) have very different goals and procedures. Work Comp ALJs in my state, for example, perform adversarial hearings].
It is kind of ridiculous to ask what would happen to the disabled ALJs if all ALJs were required to transport taping equipment. Do you for a minute think that the incredibly accommodating Federal work environment we have would not find a perfectly reasonable way to deal with this? Most of the ALJs in my office are 107 years old. Someone takes the equipment to the car, and the hearing monitor takes it out at the remote site. Why would that be such a problem for you (or anyone)?
Also, Woody, maybe read the post in the Memorial Day thread by DecadeALJ (I believe it was - about being a military judge in Unchon). How you can not only be so unhappy in your job, but begrudge claimants' reps the occasional $6,000 fee (it is not the norm, by the way) like it comes out of your own pocket is just...sad. Think how much harder your job would be without them. And if it's such a good gig, you could always quit and start up your own firm.
Maybe take a month off and reconnect with something good in your life. I'd be willing to bet that the people who "don't have a bad word to say" have simply learned that you are not open to discussion and have confined their "words" to their own social circles. No one with the sour, unhelpful attitude you described is lauded in an office.
Last Edit: May 31, 2010 14:46:31 GMT -5 by propmaster
I am going to answer the question about why I am unhappy in the job. I would say that the broad answer is that in this point in my career I did not anticipate the micromanagement. Just a few examples- I used to group the unrepped claimants and hold a bunch of 15 minute pre-hearing conferences (rocket docket) and get all their treating sources and a release so that we could go to hearing later with the file up to date (the files are generally 2 years old in my office when I get them. Management did away with the requirement to update the files) Mangement decided to centralize the scheduling and the scheduler can't accommodate this. I now have 45 minute hearings scheduled for a majority of claimants who either don't show or want a rep. We used to put 'warnings' on the notice of hearing to bring an ID to the federal building or don't bring a 2 year old to a hearing with nobody to watch them. So we got centralized noticing and they can't do that anymore. I have to postpone more hearings, but then get weekly questions about why certain cases were postponed. Now perhaps that is just the ordinary frustration of working for the feds, but I have worked for other agencies where this was not the case; I had some control over the process. I guess my greatest frustration is the constant harassment by management for more numbers to the exclusion of quality. The SCTs and the attorneys in my office who put out consistently quality work that I can rely on day after day constantly have the work of the high producers thrown in their face. I am tired of having my SCT crying in my office because the SCT whose work she corrects before I even see it got another cash award. I have raised this problem with management and I get a shoulder shrug. I hate the job because I can do it, but they won't get out of my way. And since when did being a judge become a bad word?
Woody, I am concerned about the idea that claimants before you have their claims denied because their reps did not get a treating-source RFC. If you need a treating-source RFC to fully and fairly hear the case and the rep has not obained it, shouldn't you direct the rep to do so? Your duty in this non-adversarial proceeding is to fully develop the record. Is it OK to let a disabled claimant slip through our society's safety net to deliver a consequence to a rep?
There should not be a bright line rule that a representative has to have a treating source fill out an RFC for their client for the simple reason that many doctors refuse to fill out such a form. Disqualifying a claimant for actions of his doctor is inappropriate.