UNI: ED STATES GENERAL A~COUNTIE; OFFICE WASHINGTON, D C 20548 ClVit DlVlSiON June 28, 1971 Dear lb&. Ball: We reviewed the travel and overtime practices followed by the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (Bureau), Social Security Administration, with respect to its hearing examiners. The examiners travel and work overtime in provCEng hearings to individuals who cksagree with determinations made on their claims for Social Security retirement, survivors, disability, or hospital insurance benefits and rendering decisions with respect to such claims. In recent years, the Bureau has experienced substantial growth in the number of cases it has received and heard under various titles of the Soczal Security Act. The Bureau has estimated that this trend will continue and that its overall workload is eqectod to increase dramatically In the immedzate future because of additional responsibilities assigned to it under the Federal Coal Ishne Health and Safety Act of 1969. Our review indicated that substantial mmprovements might be made in the Bureau’s travel practices. Specifically, our test of the travel records of selected examiners ldentlfied numerous in- stances in which the Justlfzcatlon for both intra- and Inter-regional travel appeared questionable. Several of the trips involved cross- country travel at considerable expense to the Government. Our review of overtime worked by hearing examiners during fiscal years 1969 and 1970 showed that some reeons, using little or no overtime, handled on the average more cases per exarmner than other regions using substantial amounts of overtime. The details on each of tiiese matters--travel and overtime usage--are &.scussed below. IlPROVEHTBT POSSIBLE IN ADIZI~STR&~ON OF TRAVEL Under Bureau procedures the administration of hearing examiner travel has, to a large extent, been delegated to the various regzonal hearing representatives. These representatives are responsible for 50TH ANNIVERSARY 1921- 1771 l2iiqz3 approving trk a31 within their respective regions but must obtain the approval of the Bureau central office for any inter-regxonal travel required. The examiners visiting other field offices are generally accompanied by a hearing assistant and receZ.ve their case asszgn- ments from the administrative hearing exarmner of the office being visited. According to Bureau officials, most cases are of a nature that does not require the expertise of a particular hearing examiner. Approximately $400,000 was spent on travel by hearing examiners and their staffs during fiscal year 1970. We examined the travel records of 24 hearing examiners from l!~ of the 63 field offices for fiscal years 1969 and 1970. The 24 employees represented about 8 percent of the hearing examiners employed by the Bureau during fiscal year 1970. In our opinion, the need for a large portion of the travel of 17 of these 24 examiners was questionable because the travel was made to regional or field offices where the offices vzsited had an unassigned workload that could be considered lighter than or com- parable to the traveler’s regular office. The 17 examiners traveled on 66 different occasions; 50 of the trips appeared questionable when viewed in terms of workload con- sideration s . None of the trips involved special cases which requLrsd the skills of a specific individual. The hearing examiners incurred costs totaling about $10,100 on these 50 trips. We did not determine the costs incurred by any assistants accompanyzng the exmners. The following situations are examples of cases identified during our review which we considered questionable. JWing fiscal year 1970, an examiner attached to a west coast field office was assigned 15 cases by the administrative hearing examiner of a midwest field office. About the time these cases were assigned, the midwest field office had an unassigned workload of seven cases for each of its regular examiners whereas the west coast office had an unassigned workload of 10 cases per examLner. Since the workload of the field office vzslted was smaller than that of the hearing examinerls office of origin, the need for this type of assistance and the incurrence of costs appears questionable. More- over, in this particular case, the examiner took annual leave both enroute to and from the field office visited. To illustrate other instances of questionable travel, the follolting table shows seven trips made by an examiner from a southern field office and compares the unassigned case workloads of the examiner’s regular office with that of the viszted office. -2- Unassigned case workload at time of visit Regular office Office visited Month of Average per Average per Office visited visit Total examiner Total exam3ner Long Beach, California 2/69 XL 65 11 Miati, Florida $2; 10 $2 12 Orlando, Florida 2 8 Raleigh, North Carolina 8/69 61 35 12 Orlando, Florida Miami, Florida 2/70 40 54 10 13 2 35 Charlotte, North Carolina 39 10 35 7 As shown above, on all but two of the trips, the total unassigned caseload in the examZner!s regular office exceeded that of the office he visited; and on all but one trip, the average number of unassigned cases per hearrng examiner in his regular office was comparable to the workload in the office he visited. In another instance, an examiner from an east coast office visited a west coast offxe to assist wzth the workload. The following month an exarmner from that west coast office vlsxted a midwest office to assist wxth the latter office's workload. In our opinion, travel between field offices should be made only when the workload situation of a field office warrants outside assistance and then such assistance should be sought from the nearest office with available manpower in relation to its unassigned case workload. Recommendation In view of the questionable trips identified by our review, we recommend that the Social Security Administration examine the practices of its various regional offices in authorizing travel for hearing examiners. Such a review should be made with a view toward establishing a Bureau-wide policy as to when intra- and inter-regional travel should be authorized. NEEDTOSTUDYTBEEFFECTIVENESS OFOVERTIMEIN RELATIONTO MSES RANDLED Under existing Bureau practice, each regional hearing represent- ative establishes the policy as to when or under what circumstances overtime will be authorized. The regional policies range from one of authorizing overtime only in emergency situations such as where a claimant is available only on Saturdays OF after normal working hours--as in the case of the San Francisco region--to a more gen- eralized policy of authorizing overtime for the purpose of main- taining a high case disposition rate--as in the case of the Dallas region. In examining the overtime used by the Bureau during fiscal years 1969 and 1970, we observed that, in certain regions, the average number of case dlzspositions handled per examiner was high with the use of little or no overtime while, in other regions, the opposite appeared true. The following table compares overtime with case dispositions of the various regzons during fiscal years 1969 and 1970. Total Case tispositions Fiscal overtime Average per year Region hours Total examiner 1969 VII 1,850 J-47 Ix 96 g;; III 1,&% $872 125 124 II 63~5 2,577 123 IV 2,m 3,g p::; 318 122 ii $363 118 VIII 34 I 0 z: 103 91 1970 2,068 5,483 171 54; g,;g 162 I"x 159 IV 8:05'S 152 IIS 2' ii;; 7,307 lb9 I 16 & 1,146 3,759 VIII ll As ShaM above, the San Francisco region (Region IX) ranked high in terms of average number of dispositLons per examiner in both fiscal years with little or no overtime being incurred. Region IX was the second highest in terms of dispositions per examiner in fiscal year 1969 wtth only 96 hours of overtime incurred; in fiscal year 1970 this region ranked third using no overtime. -4- In contrast, the Chicago region (Region V) incurred the most overtime in bcth fiscal years without achieving any unusual degree of case dispositions. This region represented the fourth and third lowest region in fiscal year- c 1.969 and 1970 in terms of case dis- positions per examiner. In our view, these statistics indicate that there are a number of regions incurring substantial overtime costs without any marked increase in the rate of case dispositions. While we recognize that the rates of case dispositions are undoubtedly dependent upon many factors--including the extent of hearing examiner travel, the relative experience of the various hearing examiners, the extent and frequency of leave taken, etc .--we believe that the Bureau should determine the reasons for the wide variance of regional case bspositions in relation to overtime used. Conceivably, the regional offices with high case disposztion rate/low overtime experience may have devised operating techniques and used supporting staff in a manner that could be applied advantageously to other regional offices. Recommendation We recommend that the Social Security Administration undertake a comparative study of the operations of the various regional offices to determine the need for a Bureau-wide policy on the use of overtime for hearing examiners. Your comments on the matters discussed in this report and advice as to any action taken in connection with these matters would be appreciated. Copies of this report are being sent today to the Assistant Secretary, Comptroller, and the Director of the RENAudit Agency. Sincerely yours, Fited D. Layton ‘1 Assistant Director Mr. Robert M. Ball Commissioner of Social Security Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
Travel and Overtime Practices for Hearing Examiners, Social Security Administration
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-06-28.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)