I-1-6-1.Congressional Inquiries at Hearing Offices

Last Update: 11/2/10 (Transmittal I-1-59)

A. General

Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), hearing office (HO) managers and HO staff must:

  • Give high priority to inquiries received from Members of Congress and their staffs;

  • Respond to congressional inquiries promptly, accurately, and courteously; and

  • Communicate any concerns about a particular inquiry to the congressional office that made the inquiry, the Office of the Regional Chief ALJ, and the Office of the Chief ALJ.

    NOTE:

    In addition to congressional inquiries, inquiries from some other offices should be considered high priority. These include: the White House, Office of the Vice President, and offices of Cabinet members; State Governors and legislators; the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other Federal law enforcement agencies when fraud or other criminal acts are alleged or implied; and the media. Consult with the Hearing Office Director (HOD) to determine how to treat these types of inquiries. HODs should consult with regional office (RO) management.

B. Telephone Inquiries from Members of Congress

If the initial inquiry is made by telephone:

  1. Obtain either a Case Processing and Management System (CPMS) query or a Personal Communications (PCOM) query to determine the case status.

  2. If possible, provide case status and all other requested information during the initial call. When the status of a case is not immediately available, advise the congressional staff member that he or she will receive a call back within 48 hours.

  3. Prepare a report of contact (RC). Include in the RC the Congressperson's and staff member's names, their telephone number, and the claimant's name and Social Security number. Record the information given to the staff member, and sign and date the report.

  4. Place a copy of the RC in the ALJ file and a copy in the claim file (CF).

    NOTE:

    Instructions for annotating or documenting the CF refer equally to a paper folder and an electronic folder.

  5. Update CPMS to note the congressional interest.

  6. Label or flag the CF and ALJ file to indicate the congressional interest.

C. Written Inquiries from Members of Congress

If the initial inquiry is a letter or a route slip:

  1. Date-stamp the correspondence and associate it with the CF. Place a copy of the correspondence in the ALJ file.

  2. Update CPMS to note the congressional interest.

  3. Label or flag the CF and the ALJ file to indicate the congressional interest.

D. Interim Responses to Written Inquiries

  1. Acknowledge receipt of a written inquiry within 7 working days. The initial response should convey as much information as possible about the case. If there is a problem obtaining information initially, send a letter advising that attention is being given to the inquiry and further information will be provided as soon as possible.

  2. If the case is not assigned to an ALJ, the HO Chief ALJ (HOCALJ) signs the response. If the case is assigned, the ALJ signs the response.

  3. Whenever information is given by telephone, an RC must be completed and a copy placed in both the ALJ file and the CF.

E. Diarying the Inquiry

After an initial response is made, whether by telephone or by letter, the inquiry is diaried for follow-up responses:

  1. Diary the inquiry for 30 days on CPMS.

  2. At the end of the 30 days, send a letter or make a telephone call to convey the updated status of the case.

  3. Re-diary the inquiry for 30 days on CPMS. Continue to follow-up and re-diary every 30 days until the final response is released.

    NOTE 1:

    A status report every 30 days is not required if other arrangements are made between HO management and congressional staff, e.g., an agreement to inform the congressional staff of major status changes only instead of 30-day reports of "no status change". HO management should document any such agreements in writing in the administrative records of the HO.

    NOTE 2:

    Some HOs have made arrangements with congressional staff for the HO to send monthly status reports using mutually agreed-upon methods, e.g., sending printout lists generated from CPMS in lieu of letters. HO management should document any such agreements in writing in the administrative records of the HO.

F. Final Responses

When the final disposition is ready, prepare a written final response. Include in the final letter the type of decision or order and, if appropriate, where the CF will be sent.

NOTE:

The final congressional response should be released the same day as the ALJ's decision or order.

G. Non-routine Congressional Inquiries

Refer congressional inquiries of a non-routine nature to the HOCALJ or the Regional Chief ALJ. Non-routine inquiries include issues such as backlogs, processing times, personnel matters, and allegations of ALJ Bias/Misconduct. (See HALLEX I-1-3-4 A.1.)

H. Appeals Council Remand Cases with Congressional Interest

If the HO receives an Appeals Council remand case that already has a congressional inquiry flag attached to the front of the CF or congressional interest noted in the CF, advise the congressional office, either by telephone or in writing, that the HO has received the case back from the Appeals Council. Provide status reports to the congressional staff member every 30 days (or in an alternative manner as mutually agreed upon, and documented in writing, by HO management and congressional staff). Also, provide a final response when the ALJ issues a decision.

I. Notification of Congressional Interest from the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), Congressional and Public Affairs Branch (CPAB)

If a Congressperson or his or her staff member contacts the Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review regarding an HO case, CPAB is responsible for obtaining status on the case, preparing a response, and routing the congressional inquiry to the HO. HO staff should take the following actions when notified of a congressional inquiry by CPAB staff:

  1. Provide the status of the case if contacted by CPAB staff.

  2. Update CPMS to show congressional interest and label or flag the claim file to indicate the congressional interest. The CPAB staff member will forward the yellow file box copy of the response and the original congressional inquiry for association with the CF.

  3. When the inquiry and response are received from CPAB, place a copy in the ALJ file, associate the inquiry and response with the CF, and input an appropriate diary date on CPMS for a follow-up response (30 days from the date of CPAB's response). Then follow instructions E. and F. above until the case is closed.