- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Social Security chief Carolyn W. Colvin is set to tell Congress on Wednesday that if lawmakers want to cut down on judges approving bogus disability claims, they will have to pony up more money.

Ms. Colvin, the acting commissioner, is set to testify that the Social Security Administration suffers from a level of “underfunding [that] has presented us with significant challenges in providing the public the level of service that it deserves.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a series of hearings this week looking at disability spending and questioning whether specific judges are derelict in their duties when they approve more than 90 percent of cases, sometimes without in-person hearings.

Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, released a staff report Tuesday that said SSA’s administrative law judges allowed 1.3 million people to gain federal disability benefits at the lifetime cost of about $400 billion from 2005 to 2013 despite “red flags” raised when they’d previously been denied by state officials.

Four judges testified Tuesday — three of them under subpoena, while one, Harry C. Taylor II, came voluntarily and faced questions from a Democrat over whether he once literally fell asleep on the job.

Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, pressed Judge Taylor on the claim. The judge testified it never happened, although the congresswoman cited a reprimand.

SEE ALSO: Disability fraud piles up as Social Security ties judges’ hands: lawmakers

“Not for that, no ma’am,” he said.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and lawyer by training, accused Judge Gerald I. Krafsur of playing witness by applying his own experience to his hearings and decisions.

“You may be a judge, but you’re not God,” he said.

Members of both parties said they are most worried about the taxpayer dollars at stake in the judges’ decisions.

Enrollment in Social Security’s disability program has grown “unsustainably” over the past 20 years, and auditors estimate the trust fund for disability payments will run out of funds by 2016.

“I don’t put the blame on the administration law judges; I put it on us,” Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and Congress’s top waste-watcher, testified before the committee, citing a lack of congressional oversight prior to Mr. Issa’s hearing.

He said it is important not to imperil benefits for the truly disabled. Rather, they must crack down on people gaming the system.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat, said it would have been more helpful to hold a hearing that included whistle-blowing judges who brought the issue to Congress’ attention.

“These are outliers,” he said during a break in the hearing.

Ms. Colvin is set to testify that her administration is making progress in spotting red flags in applications and that “our highly trained disability adjudicators follow a complex process for determining disability according to the requirements of the law as designed by Congress.

“The vast majority of our adjudicators are dedicated public servants who strive to make the right decision and to be good stewards of the trust funds, and we are committed to helping them do their jobs effectively,” her written testimony says.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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