Social Security Accused of Moving Goalposts

The Baltimore CIty Paper reports that the number of applicants for disability has exploded during the past two decades, and waiting times increased to an average of more than 500 days. Baltimore is the site for the largest processing components of the Social Security Administration. The long wait times have left some desperately poor applicants with virtually no income for years. The system is complicated enough that many applicants hire lawyers to steer their cases through it, at a cost of thousands of dollars (“Hardly Working,” Feature, June 1). In 2007, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue vowed to cut the backlog, and appeared to be making progress—despite yet another spike in applications owing to the economic downturn.

In the administration’s performance and accountability report for fiscal year 2010, Astrue said he had “made elimination of our hearings backlog our number one priority” and had “steadily reduced the hearings backlog despite receiving nearly 100,000 more hearing requests than we did in [fiscal year] 2009.” He said the Social Security Administration had by September 2010 reduced average hearing processing time to “below 400 days for the first time in six years.”

But Astrue also moved the goalposts, according to TRAC, which is headquartered at Syracuse University and, since 1989, has used private grants to pursue Freedom of Information Act requests of federal agencies. “In 2007 [SSA] set a goal of permanent elimination of the ‘backlog’ by 2012, modified during 2008 to eliminating it by 2013,” TRAC’s report, which is available online at See article here: