It has been about a year since the SSA instituted a policy of not disclosing in advance of the hearing the identity of the administrative law judge assigned to a particular disability claim. The policy was aimed, it appears, at those declining video hearings with judges with a poor history of granting disability claims (an in-person hearing remains the perogative of the claimant).
I wrote about the new policy in a post called ALJ Unknown. At that time, I did not think the new policy would matter that much. I know my local judges, I wrote, and I can adjust to a particular judge on the day of the hearing. Well, a year of experience has proven me wrong. It really does matter, and the more experience one has with the local ALJs, the greater difference it makes.
Concern over the policy reached the Senate Appropriations Committee, which directed the SSA to evaluate alternatives to the policy, and report back on November 1, 2012. As far as I can tell, there has been no response to that directive.
The ALJ nondisclosure policy was at the direction of Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. I think he has done an excellent job as Commissioner, particularly given the hand he was dealt during his 6-year term. But in response to criticism of this new policy, Commissioner Astrue just dug in.
Commissioner Astrue's term is up in January. He has clearly stated that he is not seeking another term. Maybe he is just done. Or maybe he is tired of what he views as carping by disability lawyers about the policy. But it is still surprising to me that there has not been a response to the Appropriations Committee.
I just want to do the best job possible of preparing a case for hearing. I can do that job better if I know who the judge will be. That is the extent of my concern over this policy. I hope the new Commissioner rethinks it.