The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) has a new policy that prohibits releasing the name of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) assigned to hear a case until the day of the hearing. Attorneys for disabled individuals seem to be universally against this foolish policy.
Use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request the name of the ALJ assigned to your case. The disclosure of the name of an ALJ assigned to a disability case should be permitted. The Social Security Administration (SSA) seems pretty open with its FOIA responses. After all, they provided to the Wall Street Journal, the names of the ten individuals who earned the most dollars in attorney fees last year, right down to the penny.
A memorandum from the President’s Pen on his first day of office stated:
My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
In response to the President’s directive, the SSA also created its Open Government Plan. Goal Number One of the Open Government Plan is to increase transparency.
SSA goes on to say:
Through our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program we ensure transparency through a “presumption of openness.”
We are committed to achieving an unprecedented level of openness in government.
If this is their real policy, then why in the world did they decide one day that disabled individuals no longer need to know who their ALJ is going to be until the day of the hearing?
Straight from the FOIA page on SSA’s website:
The Freedom of Information Act allows members of the public to request records from various Federal government agencies. The FOIA was established to make the federal government accountable to the public for its actions and prevents agencies from having secret policies.
You can make a request online, mail, or fax.
The rules regarding submission of FOIA requests are simple – just tell them who you are and what information you want. SSA’s own website, says your letter and envelope needs to say “FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST” or “INFORMATION REQUEST” and be sent to one of the addresses below. Make sure your letter includes your name, address, and the specific information you want. SSA also asks that you include a phone number or email address. However, SSA is not very clear as to what specific address out of the two listed below you need to send your request to:
Social Security Administration
OEO FOIA Workgroup
300 N. Greene Street
P.O. Box 33022
Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022
Social Security Administration
Office of Privacy and Disclosure
617 Altmeyer Building
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, Maryland 21235
Fax: (410) 966-0869
I used the second address when I sent out my recent requests because that address said “for all other requests” and because it had a fax number. I sent my requests by fax so that I have proof that SSA received my request.
As an attorney, my request looked something like this:
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST
I am the attorney of record who represents the individual listed below in connection with that person’s claim for Social Security benefits. There is currently a case pending at the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. It is my understanding that Goal Number 1 of the Social Security Administration’s Open Government Mission is to increase governmental transparency. Under the Freedom of Information Act, we request the name of the Administrative Law Judge assigned to hear the case. We have enclosed form 1696 so you can easily verify our representation of the Claimant.
Name of Claimant:
You may send your response in writing to:
I recently sent out several FOIA requests for cases with upcoming hearings. I have no idea how SSA will respond. I hope they respect their own policy of openness and transparency and disclose this important and helpful information.