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Rule

Amendment to the Attorney Advisor Program

Document Details

Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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This document has been published in the Federal Register. Use the PDF linked in the document sidebar for the official electronic format.

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AGENCY:

Social Security Administration.

ACTION:

Interim final rule with request for comments.

SUMMARY:

We are announcing this interim final rule to modify, on a temporary basis, the prehearing procedures we follow in claims for Social Security disability benefits or supplemental security income (SSI) payments based on disability or blindness. Under the interim final rule, we may allow certain attorney advisors, under managerial oversight, to conduct certain prehearing proceedings, and where the documentary record developed as a result of these proceedings warrants, issue decisions that are wholly favorable to the parties to the hearing.

DATES:

Effective date: This rule is effective August 9, 2007. Comment date: To be sure that your comments are considered, we must receive them no later than October 9, 2007.

ADDRESSES:

You may give us your comments by: Internet through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov; e-mail to regulations@ssa.gov; telefax to (410) 966-2830; or letter to the Commissioner of Social Security, P.O. Box 17703, Baltimore, MD 21235-7703. You may also deliver them to the Office of Regulations, Social Security Administration, 107 Altmeyer Building, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21235-6401, between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on regular business days. Comments are posted on the Federal eRulemaking Portal, or you may inspect them on regular business days by making arrangements with the contact person shown in this preamble.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Marilyn Hull, Social Security Administration, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3260, 703-605-8500 for information about this notice. For information on eligibility or filing for benefits, call our national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778, or visit our Internet site, Social Security Online, at http://www.socialsecurity.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Electronic Version

The electronic file of this document is available on the date of publication in the Federal Register at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/​fr/​index.html.

Explanation of Changes

We are dedicated to providing high-quality service to the American public. Today and for the foreseeable future, we face significant challenges in our ability to provide the level of service that disability benefit claimants deserve because of the significantly increased number and complexity of these benefit claims. Consequently, we are publishing a temporary modification to the procedures we follow in the administrative law judge (ALJ) hearings process in claims for Social Security disability benefits or SSI payments Start Printed Page 44764based on disability or blindness. This temporary modification will help us provide accurate and timely service to claimants for Social Security disability benefits and SSI payments based on disability or blindness. With this modification, we are permitting attorney advisors, under managerial oversight, to conduct certain prehearing proceedings to help develop claims, and issue fully favorable decisions in appropriate claims before a hearing is conducted. We expect that this change will help us reduce the very high number of pending cases at the hearing level by enhancing claims development before the hearing and by permitting attorney advisors to issue fully favorable decisions in appropriate claims. This temporary modification applies only to claims processed under parts 404 and 416 of our regulations; it does not apply to claims processed under part 405 of our regulations, which concerns only disability claims filed in the Boston region after July 31, 2006. Parts 404 and 416 of our regulations concern disability cases in every area outside the Boston region and non-disability cases in every location.

Generally, when a claim is filed for Social Security disability benefits or SSI payments based on disability or blindness, a State agency makes the initial and reconsideration disability determination for us. ALJs conduct hearings after we have made a reconsideration determination. Under this interim final rule, attorney advisors who serve as decision writers or managers within the hearing operation may conduct certain prehearing proceedings and, where appropriate, issue decisions that are wholly favorable to claimants and any other party to the hearing.

Attorney advisors have performed these duties in the past. In June 1995, we announced final rules establishing the attorney advisor program for a limited period of 2 years. 60 FR 34126 (June 30, 1995). The program's success prompted us to extend the program several times, until it finally ended in April 2001. 62 FR 35073 (June 30, 1997), 63 FR 35515 (June 30, 1998), 64 FR 13677, 64 FR 51892.

Requests for hearings have significantly increased in recent years, and we expect even more such requests in the future due to the projected increase in disability claims as the baby boomers move into their disability-prone years. Additionally, the very high number of pending cases at the hearing level has grown to an alarming level. We plainly must do everything that we can to address this workload. This interim final rule is an important part of our efforts designed to help us decide these cases more efficiently.

These regulations will allow us to expedite the processing of cases pending at the hearing level without infringing on the right of a claimant to a hearing before an ALJ. The attorney advisor's conduct of certain prehearing proceedings will not delay the scheduling of a hearing before an ALJ. If the prehearing proceedings are not concluded before the hearing date, the case will be sent to the ALJ unless a decision wholly favorable to the claimant and all other parties is in process, or the claimant and all other parties to the hearing agree in writing to delay the hearing until the prehearing proceedings are completed.

Prehearing proceedings may be conducted by the attorney advisor under this interim final rule if one of the following criteria is met: new and material evidence is submitted, there is an indication that additional evidence is available, there is a change in the law or regulations, or there is an error in the file or some other indication that a wholly favorable decision could be issued. A decision by an attorney advisor will be mailed to all parties. The notice of decision will state the basis for the decision and advise the parties that an ALJ will dismiss the hearing request unless a request to proceed with the hearing is made by a party within 30 days after the date the notice of the decision was mailed.

These procedures will remain in effect for a period of time not to exceed 2 years from the effective date of this interim final rule, unless we terminate or extend them by publication of a final rule in the Federal Register. If we publish such a final rule, we need not request further public comment.

Clarity of These Rules

Executive Order 12866, as amended, requires each agency to write all rules in plain language. In addition to your substantive comments on these interim final rules, we invite your comments on how to make them easier to understand.

For example:

Have we organized the material to suit your needs?

Are the requirements in the rules clearly stated?

Do the rules contain technical language or jargon that isn't clear?

Would a different format (grouping and order of sections, use of headings, paragraphing) make the rules easier to understand?

Would more (but shorter) sections be better?

Could we improve clarity by adding tables, lists, or diagrams?

What else could we do to make the rules easier to understand?

Regulatory Procedures

Pursuant to sections 205(a), 702(a)(5), and 1631(d)(1) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 405(a), 902(a)(5), and 1383(d)(1), we follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) rulemaking procedures specified in 5 U.S.C. 553 in the development of our regulations. The APA provides exceptions to its prior notice and public comment procedures when an agency finds there is good cause for dispensing with such procedures on the basis that they are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.

We have determined that, under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B), good cause exists for issuing this regulatory change as an interim final rule. However, we are inviting public comment on the interim final rule and will consider any responsive comments we receive within 60 days of the publication of the interim final rule.

We are not changing the substantive provisions of the attorney advisor program, which still appear in the regulations. We are merely re-enacting the provisions that we have used in the past. The substantive rules were promulgated with notice and public comment procedures, with a notice of proposed rulemaking published on April 14, 1995 (60 FR 19008) and final rules published on June 30, 1995 (60 FR 34126). Accordingly, we find that an additional opportunity for public comment prior to re-enactment of this program is unnecessary.

We also find that it would be contrary to the public interest not to effectuate these rules as quickly as we can. The attorney advisor program will help, along with a series of other initiatives that we are contemplating, reduce the pending hearing requests to a manageable level. We must address the hearing backlog as quickly as possible. If we do not address this issue now, the situation could easily worsen, possibly resulting in over one million cases awaiting a hearing within 3 years. Of course, such a state of affairs is acceptable neither to us nor to the public at large. For these reasons, we believe we must take swift action and implement this rule as quickly as possible.

Executive Order 12866, as Amended

We have consulted with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and determined that this rule meets the criteria for a significant regulatory action under Executive Order 12866, as Start Printed Page 44765amended. Thus, it was reviewed by OMB.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

We certify that this interim final rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities as it affects only States and individuals. Therefore, a regulatory flexibility analysis as provided in the Regulatory Flexibility Act, as amended, is not required.

Paperwork Reduction Act

This rule will impose no additional reporting or recordkeeping requirements requiring OMB clearance.

Federalism Impact and Unfunded Mandates Impact

We have reviewed this rule under the threshold criteria of Executive Order 13132 and the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and have determined that it does not have substantial direct effects on the States, on the relationship between the national government and the States, on the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government, or on imposing any costs on State, local, or tribal governments. This rule does not affect the roles of the State, local, or tribal governments. However, the rule takes administrative notice of existing statutes governing the roles and relationships of the State agencies and SSA with respect to disability determinations under the Act.

(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Program Nos. 96.001, Social Security—Disability Insurance; 96.002, Social Security—Retirement Insurance; 96.004, Social Security—Survivors Insurance; 96.006, Supplemental Security Income.)

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List of Subjects

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Dated: May 22, 2007.

Michael J. Astrue,

Commissioner of Social Security.

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For the reasons set out in the preamble, we are amending subpart J part 404 and subpart N of part 416 as set forth below:

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PART 404—FEDERAL OLD-AGE, SURVIVORS AND DISABILITY INSURANCE (1950- )

Subpart J—[Amended].

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1. The authority citation for subpart J of part 404 continues to read as follows:

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Authority: Secs. 201(j), 204(f), 205(a), (b), (d)-(h), and (j), 221, 223(i), 225, and 702(a)(5) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401(j), 404(f), 405(a), (b), (d)-(h), and (j), 421, 423(i), 425, and 902(a)(5)); sec. 5, Pub. L. 97-455, 96 Stat. 2500 (42 U.S.C. 405 note); secs. 5, 6(c)-(e), and 15, Pub. L. 98-460, 98 Stat. 1802 (42 U.S.C. 421 note); sec. 202, Pub. L. 108-203, 118 Stat. 509 (42 U.S.C. 902 note).

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2. Amend § 404.942 by revising the first sentence of paragraph (a) and paragraph (g) to read as follows:

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Prehearing proceedings and decisions by attorney advisors.

(a) General. After a hearing is requested but before it is held, an attorney advisor may conduct prehearing proceedings as set out in paragraph (c) of this section. * * *

* * * * *

(g) Sunset provision. The provisions of this section will no longer be effective on August 10, 2009, unless we terminate them earlier or extend them beyond that date by notice of a final rule in the Federal Register.

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PART 416—SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME FOR THE AGED, BLIND, AND DISABLED

Subpart N—[Amended]

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3. The authority citation for subpart N continues to read as follows:

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Authority: Secs. 702(a)(5), 1631, and 1633 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 902(a)(5), 1383, and 1383b); sec. 202, Pub. L. 108-203, 118 Stat. 509 (42 U.S.C. 902 note).

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4. Amend § 416.1442 by revising the first sentence of paragraph (a) and paragraph (g) to read as follows:

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Prehearing proceedings and decisions by attorney advisors.

(a) General. After a hearing is requested but before it is held, an attorney advisor may conduct prehearing proceedings as set out in paragraph (c) of this section. * * *

* * * * *

(g) Sunset provision. The provisions of this section will no longer be effective on August 10, 2009, unless we terminate them earlier or extend them beyond that date by notice of a final rule in the Federal Register.

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[FR Doc. E7-15422 Filed 8-8-07; 8:45 am]

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