Information About SSA's Hearings and Appeals Operations

The Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) and the Office of Analytics, Review and Oversight (OARO) are responsible for holding hearings, issuing decisions, and reviewing post-hearing appeals as part of the Social Security Administration's process for determining whether or not a person may receive benefits. Headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, these components make up one of the largest administrative adjudication systems in the world.

OHO directs a nationwide field organization of administrative law judges (ALJ) who conduct impartial "de novo" hearings and make decisions on appealed determinations involving retirement, survivors, disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. Through the Appeals Council, OARO reviews ALJ decisions on appeal by claimants, or on its own motion, and processes cases appealed to federal court. The Deputy Commissioners for OHO and OARO are the agency officials responsible for administration of this enormous adjudicative system.

OHO and OARO have two case processing/adjudication components, also located in Falls Church, Virginia - the Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge and the Office of Appellate Operations.

Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge (Office of Hearings Operations):

The Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge directs a nationwide field organization consisting of 10 regional offices, 166 hearing offices (including 2 satellite offices), 5 national hearing centers, and 4 national case assistance centers. Hearing sites are staffed with ALJs who conduct impartial "de novo" hearings and make decisions on appealed agency determinations. Each year, more than 1,500 ALJs render over 636,285 decisions at the hearing level.

The Chief ALJ is the principal consultant and advisor to the Deputy Commissioner on all matters concerning the ALJ hearing process and all field operations.

Office of Appellate Operations (Office of Analytics, Review and Oversight):

The Office of Appellate Operations includes the Appeals Council, the last level of review within the agency, and its support staff. The Appeals Council consists of approximately 66 administrative appeals judges and 47 appeals officers.

The Appeals Council reviews over 165,000 hearing decisions appealed by claimants and on its own motion each year. The Appeals Council also processes over 16,000 cases appealed to federal court each year. In addition, the Appeals Council performs quality review to ensure that OHO’s decisions and practices are policy compliant and provides expert advice to the Deputy Commissioner on regulations and proposals for legislation within OHO's jurisdiction.

The Executive Director of the Office of Appellate Operations serves as the Chair of the Appeals Council and is a key advisor to the Deputy Commissioner on program operations matters, adjudicative trends at both the administrative appeals and court levels, and related OHO functions.

More information about the history of the Appeals Council.

Operational and Administrative Support:

In addition to OHO's and OARO’s case processing and adjudication components, three operational/administrative support components also support the hearings and appeals mission.

  • The Office of Budget, Facilities, and Security administers budget management, manages space and supply procurement, oversees physical security, and provides comprehensive management information.

  • The Office of Electronic Services and Systems Integration provides technology support, advances cutting-edge electronic services, and oversees systems security.

  • The Office of Executive Operations and Human Resources plans and manages training and employee development programs, handles a myriad of personnel and organizational issues, administers responses to Government Accountability Office and Inspector General audits and Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act requests, and advises the Deputy Commissioners on labor and employee relations issues.