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)

                                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.

                                               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.
                      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.
               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
      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
              II                63~5          2,577                 123
              IV             2,m
                             3,g              p::;                  318
              ii                              $363                  118
              VIII                 34
              I                         0           z:              103

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
              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

       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.
     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