During the past two decades, unprecedented growth has occurred in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. At the same time, processing time for disability claims and appeals determinations has increased substantially.
The committee commends the Social Security Administration (SSA) for recognizing the need to reengineer its disability claims process, in response to the many complaints from citizens and Congressional concerns. As one part of the overall reengineering work, considerable effort has been devoted to developing a research agenda for a redesigned decision process that should result in better disability decisions and more efficient use of staff resources.
This report is the second in a series of short interim reports of the National Academy of Sciences' Committee to Review the SSA's Disability Decision Process Research. The first interim report reviewed and commented on the general features of the proposed survey design, data collection plans, and coverage and sampling for the Disability Evaluation Study (DES) as described in SSA's draft request for proposals (RFP).
This second report is limited to a preliminary review of SSA's research plan for developing a revised decision process to determine a person's disability. In that context, the report outlines a framework for a research design and reviews the general features and directions specified by SSA in the scope of work in the relevant RFPs for the conduct of the research. It identifies critical elements of a research design that are missing from SSA's current plans, and expresses serious concerns about these gaps. As appropriate, preliminary comments are made on the workplans developed by the organizations awarded the research contracts by SSA in September 1997. Further, the report comments on the research projects completed prior to the start of the present study, but which are part of SSA's redesign research plan.
In addition to reviewing the scope of work and workplans, the committee explored other relevant internal documents provided by SSA in response to requests for information. It also heard presentations from the staff of SSA on the work completed to date, and their plans to integrate the results of the research projects and the DES to develop a redesigned disability decision process. The committee believes that preliminary assessments of the adequacy of the research plan are needed at this time to guide SSA management in determining if the research
activity undertaken is adequate to conclude whether or not the proposed revisions in the decision process are feasible, practical, and can be implemented nationally. In addition, suggestions are offered for changes in priorities and improvements in the research projects now underway and others yet to be developed. The committee plans to examine and comment further on the adequacy of the entire research plan when it is completed, the results of the completed research, and on any subsequently initiated research for the redesign effort. The committee also plans to comment further on the final design, approach, content, and plans for analysis of the DES when these are developed by the survey contractor and when survey data become available.