I-1-6-10.Congressional Inquiries at Headquarters

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

A. General

The Congressional and Public Affairs Branch (CPAB) serves as the primary liaison between the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) and Members of Congress on case-related matters. The CPAB staff prepares responses to both routine and sensitive written and telephone inquiries, formulates correspondence guidelines, and monitors the quality of congressional responses released by ODAR. CPAB also investigates requests for expedited processing of cases due to terminal illness (TERI) and dire need. CPAB's work is critical to ensuring good relations between ODAR and Congress.

B. Telephone Inquiries from Members of Congress

CPAB is responsible for receiving and responding to telephone calls from Members of Congress and their staffs.

NOTE:

If an employee in another ODAR Headquarters component, excluding the Executive Communications Branch (ECB), receives a telephone call from a Congressperson or a congressional staff member regarding a pending ODAR case, the call should be referred to CPAB at extension 38000. Provide the caller with the complete number, (703) 605-8000, as well as CPAB's toll free number (877) 670-2722.

The Social Insurance Specialists (Specialists) in CPAB process the congressional inquiries received by telephone as follows:

  1. If a congressional staff member requests only general information or indicates he or she does not need follow-up status reports, or if the staff member is referred to another office, there is no need to prepare a Telephone Report/Request (TR/R) (SSA-1531-U1). These calls are recorded as a stroke tally on a "Calls Without Write-ups Report" form.

  2. When a congressional telephone inquiry is received in CPAB about a case pending with ODAR, a Specialist:

    • Obtains an Appeals Review Processing System (ARPS) query;

    • Obtains an Optical System for Correspondence Analysis and Response (OSCAR) query; and

    • Prepares a TR/R. The TR/R includes the Congressperson's and staff member's names, their telephone number, and the claimant's name and Social Security number. The TR/R also notes exactly what type of information the staff member is requesting.

  3. Congressional inquiries are assigned to Specialists on a rotating basis. However, if OSCAR indicates that a Specialist already has an open inquiry on the same case or previously had an inquiry that has been closed within a year of receipt of the new inquiry, the new inquiry is usually assigned to that Specialist.

  4. The control process of congressional telephone inquiries begins with the Operations Analysts (OA). The OAs:

    • Insert the TR/R, ARPS, and OSCAR queries in a dark blue control folder; and

    • Staple an OSCAR Subject Matter Codes sheet on top of the folder and annotate the sheet with the appropriate codes to indicate the level of adjudication and claim type.

  5. The Inquiries Assistants (IA) assign the inquiries to the Specialists. The IAs:

    • Enter the Specialist's code and all other pertinent case related information into the OSCAR system;

    • Print an OSCAR control sheet and staple it to the top of the dark blue control folder over the OSCAR Subject Matter Codes sheet;

    • Scan the TR/R into the Assignment and Correspondence Tracking (ACT) system and enter the Specialist's code and all other pertinent case related information into ACT; and

    • Print the ACT control sheet and place it in the folder.

  6. After an inquiry is assigned, the Specialist uses the available queries (Personal Communications (PCOM), Case Processing and Management System (CPMS), and ARPS) to provide status and, when necessary, to refer the caller to the appropriate office. If there are critical allegations, the Specialist obtains as much information as possible from the caller and, if necessary, requests documentation to support the allegation. A form SSA-2367-U3 (Telephone Request/Written Request Critical Cases) is completed by the Specialist and a determination is made as to whether or not the case will be expedited based on ODAR's criteria for expediting cases (see HALLEX I-3-1-51, Critical Case Procedures).

  7. If the case is pending in an Office of Appellate Operations (OAO) branch, the Specialist:

    • Advises the branch that there is congressional interest by sending a yellow CPAB Case Flag, Form HA-282, to be attached to the front of the claim file (CF) at the lower right corner;

    • Requests that a CPAB Team Leader (TL) activate "Congressional Interest" in ARPS;

    • Forwards to the OAO branch any pertinent information provided by the congressional staff member regarding the case; and

    • If the Specialist has designated the case "critical," the TR/R and any other supporting documentation, the original SSA-2367-U3, and a Congressional Critical/TERI Case Flag are also forwarded to the OAO branch. Upon receipt, the OAO branch staff activates "Critical" in ARPS and associates the flag with the CF.

    NOTE:

    The OAO branch staffs are responsible for routing CFs with congressional interest through CPAB after a grant review notice, final action, or final reply is prepared, but before it is released. All cases designated "critical" are hand carried between the components.

  8. The Specialist calls the congressional staff member back within 48 hours of the original call, conveys case status, and advises that CPAB will provide status reports every 60 to 90 days, as well as a written response when the Appeals Council (AC) issues its action, order or decision. The Specialist annotates the TR/R with the information provided to the staff member and enters the type and date of the response into OSCAR.

  9. If the inquiry concerns a case pending in a field office (FO) or hearing office (HO), the Specialist:

    • Advises the congressional staff member of the status and that he or she will inform the FO/HO staff of the congressional interest in the case;

    • Alerts the FO/HO of any critical/TERI allegations, if applicable; and

    • Forwards the TR/R to the FO/HO for further reply.

  10. When the CF is received in CPAB en route to an Administrative Appeals Judge (AAJ) or HO, the Specialist:

    • Advises the congressional staff that the case is being evaluated, if this information was not previously provided or if an interim response is due;

    • Prepares a written final response based on OAO's recommended action;

    • Places the written final response in a red folder with a "Congressional" label;

    • Fills out and staples a yellow CPAB Case Flag to the front of the red folder;

    • Annotates the OSCAR control sheet with the type of response(s); and

    • Assembles the interim response in CPAB's dark blue control folder and the final response in the red folder according to CPAB's Folder Assembly Desk Guide.

  11. After the TL, OA, or Supervisor reviews the response, the CF, along with the red folder containing the Specialist's final congressional response, is returned to OAO. The dark blue control folder is returned to the Specialist to update OSCAR with the type of response and the date.

    NOTE:

    When the AC's final action is signed, dated, and released, OAO staff is responsible for dating and releasing CPAB's final response. OAO staff dates the CPAB Case Flag and returns it to CPAB.

  12. When the CPAB Case Flag is received back from OAO, the Specialist closes the congressional inquiry in OSCAR. An IA scans the final letter into ACT and enters the type and date of the response to close out the ACT control.

    NOTE: If an AAJ returns the CF to OAO's staff to prepare a different final action, order, or decision, OAO staff is responsible for rerouting the CF through CPAB so that the final response can be revised.

C. Written Inquiries from Members of Congress

CPAB handles written congressional inquiries about pending appeals cases. It also refers, as necessary, inquiries about cases pending at the hearing level, at another Social Security component or at another government agency to the appropriate office. Congressional inquiries are received by mail, fax, and email through Government to Government Services Online. All written replies to congressional inquiries are prepared for the electronic signature of the Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication and Review.

NOTE:

Forward all written congressional inquiries to CPAB, unless they are received in ECB and ECB determines that it should handle the inquiry.

Guidelines for processing written congressional inquiries are as follows:

  1. The CPAB mail clerk:

    • Opens the mail and date-stamps all congressional inquiries;

    • Obtains ARPS and OSCAR queries for each inquiry;

    • Makes a copy of each inquiry and any attachment(s); and

    • Places each inquiry and its queries into a dark blue control folder.

  2. The OAs:

    • Screen inquiries for allegations of a terminal illness or dire need that may require expedited case processing. These inquiries are assigned and evaluated by the CPAB Specialists who handle telephone inquiries. (See I-1-6-10 B., Telephone Inquiries from Members of Congress, and I-3-1-51, Critical Case Procedures.);

    • Screen the inquiries for questions regarding policy or processing times, personnel matters, etc., and forward them to ECB for proper action; and

    • Staple an OSCAR Subject Matter Codes sheet on top of each dark blue control folder and annotate the codes that indicate the level of adjudication and the claim type.

  3. Congressional inquiries are assigned to Specialists on a rotating basis. However, if OSCAR indicates that a Specialist already has an open inquiry on the same case or had an inquiry on that case that was closed within a year of receipt of the new inquiry, the new inquiry is usually assigned to that Specialist.

  4. The IAs assign the inquiries to the Specialists. The IAs:

    • Enter the Specialist's code and all other pertinent case related information into the OSCAR system;

    • Print an OSCAR control sheet and staple it to the top of the folder over the OSCAR Subject Matter Codes sheet;

    • Scan the incoming document(s) into the ACT system and enter the Specialist's code and all other pertinent case related information into ACT; and

    • Print the ACT control sheet and place it in the folder.

  5. After an inquiry is assigned to a Specialist, he or she:

    • Analyzes the incoming letter to determine exactly what information the inquirer already knows and what is being requested;

    • Uses available queries and conducts other research in order to provide status of the case to the inquiring party; and

    • If necessary, contacts the appropriate component to obtain further information or to resolve any discrepancies.

  6. If the case is pending in an OAO branch, the Specialist:

    • Advises the branch that there is congressional interest by sending a yellow CPAB Case Flag, Form HA-282, to be attached to the front of the CF at the lower right corner;

    • Requests that a CPAB TL activate "Congressional Interest" in ARPS; and

    • Forwards to OAO any pertinent information provided by the congressional staff regarding the case.

    NOTE:

    The OAO branch staff is responsible for routing CFs with congressional interest through CPAB after a grant review notice, final action, or final reply is prepared, but before it is released.

  7. An initial response to the congressional inquiry should be released within 7 days of the date the inquiry was received in CPAB. Interim responses are provided every 60 – 90 days until the AC issues its action, order, or decision.

    NOTE:

    Replies to written inquiries should be furnished in writing, although a telephone reply may be appropriate in specific situations. (Refer to Appendix 0-2 in the Office of Public Inquiries' "Guidelines for Handling High Priority Correspondence" for Members of Congress who do not wish to receive telephone responses.) Final responses must all be in writing.

  8. When development is completed and the Specialist is ready to provide a written response, the Specialist:

    • Selects the appropriate macro from CPAB's Document Generation System (DGS);

    • Modifies the macro, if necessary, to ensure that all questions are answered;

    • Prepares a response in draft to be reviewed by the TL, if there is not a macro that fits the situation;

    • Assembles the letter in the control folder for review according to CPAB's Folder Assembly Desk Guide; and

    • Annotates the OSCAR control sheet with the type of response.

  9. When printing a congressional response for release, the following copy requirements apply:

    • Two originals are mailed to the congressional office;

    • One yellow file box copy is for the CF. (This should be signed and dated by the Specialist and the reviewer.);

    • One copy is for the Specialist's records; and

    • One copy is scanned into ACT. (This applies to final responses only.)

  10. A TL, OA, or Supervisor reviews, dates, and releases the response. The dark blue control folder is returned to the Specialist to update OSCAR with the type and date of the response.

  11. If the case is pending in an FO or HO, the Specialist:

    • Prepares a letter that provides the current location of the case. If the case is pending in a HO, the letter also provides the current status; and

    • Forwards the yellow file box copy of the letter and the incoming correspondence to the FO/HO for further reply.

  12. When the CF is received in CPAB en route to an AAJ, the Specialist:

    • Advises the congressional staff that the case is being evaluated, if this information was not previously provided or if an interim response is due;

    • Prepares a written final response based on OAO's recommended action;

    • Places the written final response in a red folder with a "Congressional" label;

    • Fills out and staples a yellow CPAB Case Flag to the front of the red folder;

    • Annotates the OSCAR control sheet with the type of response(s); and

    • Assembles the interim response in CPAB's dark blue control folder and the final response in the red folder according to CPAB's Folder Assembly Desk Guide.

  13. The letter(s) are reviewed as described in 10 above except that only the interim response is released. The CF, along with the red folder containing the Specialist's final response, is returned to OAO.

    NOTE:

    When the AC's final action is signed, dated, and released, OAO staff is responsible for dating and releasing CPAB's final response to the Member of Congress. OAO staff also dates the CPAB Case Flag and returns it to CPAB.

  14. When the CPAB Case Flag is received back from OAO, the Specialist closes the inquiry in OSCAR. An IA scans the final response into ACT and enters the type and date of the response to close the ACT control.

    NOTE:

    If an AAJ returns the CF to OAO's staff to prepare a different final action, order, or decision, OAO's staff is responsible for rerouting the CF through CPAB so that the final response can be revised.

D. Congressional Inquiries Received in the Executive Communications Branch (ECB)

ECB handles the most sensitive of case-related congressional inquiries, as well as non case- related congressional inquiries with issues such as backlogs, processing times, and personnel matters. Some of these inquiries are received directly in ECB and others are routed to ECB from CPAB following the OA's screening process.

ECB may prepare a response to a congressional inquiry or assign it to another ODAR compo­nent for preparation of a response. If ECB assigns the inquiry to another component, it will provide instructions for preparing a response. Components may use the Quality Initiative for Commissioner's Correspondence (QUICC) guide at http://co.ba.ssa.gov/quicc/ for format, address, and salutation guidelines when preparing a congressional response.