SSA's Office of Appellate Review wins Deming Award

Lately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been receiving a lot of things, but most of them are not awards and praise. The Administration has been receiving criticism from all fronts and budget cuts from the Senate, all the while embroiled in the center of heated political party debates. In the midst of a financial crisis and pressure to reform, it is hard to see the positive. But there are indeed positive things happening in the SSA, and the Graduate School USA was pleased last week to bring attention to one of them.

The SSA’s Office of Appellate Review was chosen by Graduate School USA to receive this year’s 16th annual W. Edwards Deming Award, named after one of the school’s esteemed professors. The award was designed, in honor of Deming’s workforce ideology, to recognize outstanding federal and military organizations for achievements in education and training procedures for their employees. The SSA’s Office of Appellate Review was chosen on the basis of its newly developed training program for legal analysts, which has greatly improved the turn out rate of legal professionals who are able to deal effectively with the SSA’s backlog of cases.

The key changes which were made to the SSA’s legal training program were a shortening and compacting of the training sessions, as well as a redesign of the teaching methods used to prepare over 400 new legal analysts to deal with the massive amounts of disability cases waiting for review. The evidence that these changes were necessary and well-performed is an improved quality of knowledgeable legal analysts who come through the new training program.

These analysts are proving that they are capable of reviewing Social Security disability cases decisively and swiftly. The increase in the quality and effectiveness of its legal analysts has in turn led to an over-all improvement of the Social Security’s entire review process for disability benefits, which can’t help but result in greater client satisfaction and better public opinion.

In recent years, the number of Social Security Disability cases has skyrocketed, largely due to the aging baby boomer generation. At the same time, funding for staff and new facilities to deal with the increase in cases has been restricted because of the declining economy, lack of income to the program, and mounting national debt. In spite of these and other challenges, the SSA has managed to actually reduce the average wait time, nationally, for appealed cases to receive a hearing. To be able to process more cases more uniformly is no ordinary achievement, and the presentation of the W. Edwards Deming award solidifies that. This may be the pat on the back that the SSA needs to receive more public and congressional support so that it can improve itself even more. Leaders of the SSA do not deny that changes need to be made in order to keep the program sustainable, but they also believe that changes must be made gradually so as not to hurt those who are dependent on the program. At the very least, receiving the honor of the W. Edward Deming award proves that the SSA is open to these changes.