Although unlikely to be passed in its current form, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request to Congress allocates an additional $2 million of the Department of Labor’s requested $1.8 billion budget so that the Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) can hire additional personnel primarily to deal with a massive backlog of cases.
The proposed budget would allow OALJ to hire at least 10 employees, though the request does not specify how many of those would be administrative law judges. In an internal April 2013 memorandum, later made public through a FOIA request, OALJ Chief Judge Stephen Purcell wrote then-Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris that “we are fast reaching a point where the productivity of this Office will sustain a significant downturn from which we will not likely recover for years to come.”
In February, six members of Congress had written the White House complaining of “untenable delays in adjudicating claims, such as claims under the Black Lung Benefits Act and alleged violations of employment law. These delays directly and severely impact the lives of workers throughout the country, placing an undue financial and emotional burden on the affected individuals and their families.” Citing Judge Purcell’s memorandum, the lawmakers said a total of 11,325 cases were pending before 41 administrative law judges in OALJ at the end of Fiscal Year 2013, nearly double the number of cases from a decade ago. OALJ now has just 35 administrative law judges nationwide, compared to over 50 just ten years ago.
DOL spokesman Jesse Lawder wrote that if the agency gets the requested budget increase, an uncertain prospect given GOP control of the House, it will “use the resources in the most efficient manner to process cases and will make that decision once funding is provided by Congress. The Labor Department is committed to resolving compensation claims for workers and their families, and that includes alleviating the backlog of cases before administrative law judges.”