Judges, Bureaucrats, and the Question of Independence: A Study of the Social Security Administration Hearing Process


Donna Price Cofer addresses the tensions between the administrative law judges (ALJ) of the Social Security Administration and their management and examines a common dilemma in the distribution of public social benefits: the desire to meet the needs of eligible claimants and the reality of a diminishing trust fund. She begins with a definition of disability and an outline of the stages of how a claimant is processed. The hearing process is investigated in depth with emphasis placed upon the rules of evidence, claimants' right to counsel, and the impartiality of the decisionmaker. The crux of the book is a discussion of the role of the ALJ as defined in the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 and the need for decisional independence from bureaucratic pressures. Chapter 6 of this study, What the Judges Say, outlines the results of Dr. Cofer's 1982 nongovernmentally financed survey of the entire population of ALJs and directly addresses their perception of their role in the disability determination process. In conclusion, Cofer offers suggestions for reform, beginning with state disability determinations and ending with the creation of a Social Security Court.

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