[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 158 (Tuesday, August 16, 2016)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 54520-54531]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-19384]


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SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

[Docket No. SSA-2013-0044]

20 CFR Parts 404 and 416

RIN 0960-AH63


Revisions to Rules of Conduct and Standards of Responsibility for 
Appointed Representatives

AGENCY: Social Security Administration.

ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking.

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SUMMARY: We propose to revise our rules of conduct and standards of 
responsibility for representatives. We also propose to update and 
clarify procedures we use when we bring charges against a 
representative for violating our rules of conduct and standards of 
responsibilities for representatives. These changes are necessary to 
better protect the integrity of our administrative process and further 
clarify representatives' currently existing responsibilities in their 
conduct with us. The changes to our rules are not meant to suggest that 
any specific conduct is permissible under our existing rules; instead, 
we seek to ensure that our rules of conduct and standards of 
responsibility are clearer as a whole and directly address a broader 
range of inappropriate conduct.

[[Page 54521]]


DATES: To ensure that your comments are considered, we must receive 
them no later than October 17, 2016.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any one of three methods--
Internet, fax, or mail. Do not submit the same comments multiple times 
or by more than one method. Regardless of which method you choose, 
please state that your comments refer to Docket No. SSA-2013-0044 so 
that we may associate your comments with the correct rule.
    Caution: You should be careful to include in your comments only 
information that you wish to make publicly available. We strongly urge 
you not to include in your comments any personal information, such as 
Social Security numbers or medical information.
    1. Internet: We strongly recommend that you submit your comments 
via the Internet. Please visit the Federal eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov. Use the Search function to find docket number 
SSA-2013-0044. The system will issue a tracking number to confirm your 
submission. You will not be able to view your comment immediately 
because we must post each comment manually. It may take up to a week 
for your comment to be viewable.
    2. Fax: Fax comments to (410) 966-2830.
    3. Mail: Mail your comments to the Office of Regulations, Social 
Security Administration, 3100 West High Rise Building, 6401 Security 
Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401.
    Comments are available for public viewing on the Federal 
eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov or in person, during 
regular business hours, by arranging with the contact person identified 
below.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Maren Weight, Office of Appellate 
Operations, Social Security Administration, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Falls 
Church, VA 22041, (703) 605-7100. For information on eligibility or 
filing for benefits, call our national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 
or TTY 1-800-325-0778, or visit our Internet site, Social Security 
Online, at http://www.socialsecurity.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    We may issue rules and regulations to administer the Social 
Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. 405(a), 406(a)(1), 902(a)(5), 1010(a), 
and 1383(d). We are revising our rules of conduct and standards of 
responsibility for representatives and other rules about the 
representation of parties in 20 CFR part 404 subpart R and part 416 
subpart O.
    Although the vast majority of representatives conduct business 
before us ethically, and conscientiously assist their clients, these 
changes are prompted by our concerns that some representatives are 
using our processes in a way that undermines the integrity of our 
programs. We seek to clarify that certain actions are prohibited and to 
provide additional means to address representative actions that affect 
the integrity of our programs and our ability to provide the best 
possible service to the public.

Clarification to Qualifications for Non-Attorney Representatives

    Our current regulations specify in Sec.  404.1705(b)(1) that a non-
attorney must generally be known to have a good character and 
reputation to serve as a representative. In proposed Sec.  
404.1705(b)(4), we specify that certain convictions will preclude a 
non-attorney representative from demonstrating this requisite good 
character and reputation. We have noted in our existing policy that 
neither the Act nor our regulations define the terms ``good character 
and reputation.'' In these rules, we propose to clarify these terms by 
including a non-exclusive list of examples that show that a person 
lacks good character and reputation, and which, if present, will 
demonstrate to us that a non-attorney is unqualified to serve as a 
representative.

New Rules of Conduct for Representatives and Clarification of Existing 
Rules

    We are revising our rules of conduct for representatives to clarify 
their existing responsibilities under our regulations and to ensure 
their compliance with procedures designed to provide fair and efficient 
claim adjudication. We propose these changes to save limited 
administrative resources, process claims more efficiently, and protect 
the integrity of our programs.
    Current Sec.  404.1740(b)(3)(i) states that competent 
representation requires the ``knowledge, skill, thoroughness and 
preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.'' In proposed 
Sec.  404.1740(b)(3)(i), we specify that, in addition to the other 
requirements already listed, competent representation also includes 
reasonable and adequate familiarity with the evidence in a case, as 
well as knowledge of the applicable provisions of the Act, our 
regulations, and Social Security Rulings.
    Consistent with regulatory changes in our 2014 final rules to 
scheduling and appearing at hearings,\1\ we propose adding an 
affirmative duty in Sec.  404.1740(b)(3) requiring representatives to 
provide to us, on our request, a specified number of dates and times 
the representative is available for a hearing. We also propose 
specifying as an affirmative duty the requirement that representatives 
withdraw from representation at a time and in a manner that does not 
disrupt claim processing; and, in particular, not to withdraw once we 
have scheduled a hearing unless the representative can show that a 
withdrawal is necessary due to extraordinary circumstances, as we 
determine on a case-by-case basis. We also added a paragraph in 
proposed Sec.  404.1740(b)(3)(v) clarifying that a representative has 
an obligation to maintain prompt and timely communication with the 
claimant. This proposed new paragraph is consistent with many of the 
principles found in American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rule of 
Professional Conduct 1.4.\2\
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    \1\ In our 2014 final rules regarding changes to scheduling and 
appearing at hearings, we made changes to when a claimant may object 
to appearing at a hearing by video teleconferencing, or to the time 
and place of a hearing. 79 FR 39526 at 35931 (June 25, 2014).
    \2\ We acknowledge the ABA model rules apply only to attorneys, 
and our rules and regulations govern both attorney and non-attorney 
representatives. However, the ABA model rules are a helpful 
resource, as they address representation principles and practices 
relevant to our programs. The principles we cite in this proposed 
rule apply equally to attorney and non-attorney representatives.
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    In addition, for consistency with our 2015 final rules regarding 
submission of evidence in disability claims, we propose adding 
affirmative duties in proposed Sec.  404.1740(b)(5) requiring that a 
representative, when he or she submits a medical or vocational opinion 
to us, disclose in writing whether the medical or vocational opinion is 
drafted, prepared, or issued by: An employee of the representative; an 
individual contracting with the representative for services; or an 
individual to whom the representative referred the claimant for 
suggested treatment.\3\ In doing so, we clarify that

[[Page 54522]]

we do not find the behavior of referring a claimant to a medical or 
vocational provider in and of itself problematic, even in the 
particularly noted circumstances. By adding this requirement, we are 
merely indicating that, in the noted circumstances, a representative 
must disclose such a referral to us.
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    \3\ In our recent 2015 final rules regarding submission of 
evidence, we require a claimant to inform us about or submit all 
evidence that relates to whether or not he or she is blind or 
disabled, with certain exceptions for information subject to the 
attorney work product doctrine and communications subject to 
attorney-client privilege. Consistent with these recent rules 
regarding submission of evidence, the affirmative duty set forth in 
proposed Sec.  404.1740(b)(5) will not require a representative to 
disclose attorney work product or communication subject to the 
attorney-client privilege as defined by Sec.  404.1512(b)(2). In 
particular, the 2015 final rules provide that ``if you tell your 
representative about the medical sources you have seen, your 
representative cannot refuse to disclose the identity of those 
medical sources to us based on the attorney-client privilege,'' and 
``if your representative asks a medical source to complete an 
opinion form related to your impairment(s), symptoms, or 
limitations, your representative cannot withhold the completed 
opinion form from us based on the attorney work product doctrine.'' 
20 CFR 404.1512(b)(2)(iv). In the course of this rulemaking, we 
acknowledged that ``state bar rules generally require client 
confidentiality and zealous representation,'' but we stated that we 
did not believe that ``state bar rules prevent an attorney from 
complying with our Federal rule, which requires a representative to 
help a claimant satisfy his or her disclosure obligation,'' under 
our regulations. 80 FR 14828, 14832-33 (March 20, 2015); see also 
ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(b)(6) (attorney can 
reveal information relating to representation of a client ``to 
comply with other law or a court order'').
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    We also propose Sec.  404.1740(b)(6) specifying that a 
representative must inform the agency if a claimant used the 
representative's services to commit fraud against us. This is 
consistent with requirements set forth by portions of ABA Model Rule 
3.3 regarding the duty of candor toward the tribunal. We acknowledge 
that attorney representatives may be subject to state bar and ethics 
rules, which vary from state to state. However, all states recognize a 
version of the common law crime or fraud exception to privileged 
communications between an attorney and client. Furthermore, even if a 
state's rules conflicted with our rules, under the U.S. Constitution's 
Supremacy Clause, the federal rules take precedence when the 
representative is appearing in federal proceedings before us. 
Therefore, our rules would preempt any conflicting state bar and ethics 
rules.
    In proposed Sec.  404.1740(b)(7) and (8), we add affirmative duties 
that require a representative to disclose whether the representative is 
or has been disbarred or suspended from any bar or court to which he or 
she was previously admitted to practice. This includes instances in 
which a bar or court took administrative action to disbar or suspend 
the representative in lieu of disciplinary proceedings (e.g. acceptance 
of voluntary resignation pending disciplinary action); and also 
disclose whether the representative is or has been disqualified from 
participating in or appearing before any Federal program or agency, 
again including instances in which the representative was disqualified 
in lieu of disciplinary proceedings. Our current regulations specify in 
Sec.  404.1745(d) that such disbarments, suspensions, or 
disqualifications based upon misconduct constitute grounds for 
sanctions. While our current Appointment of Representative form (Form 
SSA-1696) requires a representative to disclose this information, our 
current policy does not require representatives to use this form, and, 
in some matters, a representative may be disbarred, suspended, or 
disqualified following appointment as a representative. Therefore, we 
proposed these new affirmative duties setting forth ongoing disclosure 
requirements. Similarly, in proposed Sec.  404.1740(b)(9), we also 
require that a representative disclose to us whether he or she has been 
removed or suspended from practice by a professional licensing 
authority.
    Current Sec.  404.1740(c)(10) addresses instances in which a 
representative may be working with employees or assistants to commit 
misconduct. The current rule prohibits a representative from 
suggesting, assisting, or directing another person to violate our rules 
or regulations. We have proposed adding an affirmative duty in proposed 
Sec.  404.1740(b)(10) which requires a representative to ensure that 
all of the representative's employees, assistants, partners, 
contractors, or any other person assisting the representative will be 
compliant with our rules of conduct and standards of responsibility. We 
have also specified in proposed Sec.  404.1740(c)(14) that, within the 
scope of employment, failure by a representative to properly oversee 
the representative's employees, assistants, partners, contractors, or 
any person assisting the representative, constitutes sanctionable 
behavior. This provision applies where the representative has 
managerial or supervisory authority over the individual(s) in question, 
the individual's conduct would be a violation of our rules, the 
representative has reason to believe that misconduct has occurred or 
may occur, and, when possible, the representative fails to take 
remedial action.\4\ Because many representatives associated with large 
organizations rely extensively on other employees and assistants when 
providing representational services to claimants, we believe that these 
new rules are necessary to ensure that claimants receive competent and 
effective representation and to protect the integrity of our 
administrative processes.
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    \4\ These proposed affirmative duties and prohibited actions are 
consistent with ABA Model Rule 5.1, which requires that a partner in 
a law firm, or others with comparable managerial authority, make 
reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures 
giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to 
the Rules of Professional Conduct.
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    In proposed Sec.  404.1740(c)(1), we specify that misleading a 
claimant, prospective claimant, or beneficiary regarding benefits or 
other rights under the Act includes misleading the claimant, 
prospective claimant, or beneficiary about that representative's 
services and qualifications. Both the Act and our rules provide 
claimants with a right to a representative, and, therefore, misleading 
statements about the representative's services and qualifications are 
material to the claimant's rights under the Act. However, we clarify 
that in situations where a misleading statement about the 
representative's services and qualifications adversely affects claim 
processing, to the extent permitted by our other rules, we will not 
disadvantage a claimant, potential claimant, or beneficiary because of 
a representative's misconduct. In addition, in proposed Sec.  
404.1740(c)(2), we specify that knowingly charging, collecting, or 
retaining an improper fee also includes soliciting a gift or other item 
of value other than what is authorized by law.
    We have also proposed revising our current rules regarding 
submission of false or misleading evidence. In current Sec.  
404.1740(c)(3), we prohibit a representative from knowingly making, 
presenting, or participating in the making or presenting of certain 
false or misleading statements, assertions, or representations. In our 
1998 final rules,\5\ we stated that we based this rule in part on the 
criminal prohibitions in 18 U.S.C. 1001, which prohibit knowingly and 
willfully making materially false statements. The intent requirement 
set forth in the current rule is also consistent with ABA Model Rule 
3.3(a)(1), which prohibits an attorney from knowingly making false 
statements of fact or law to a tribunal. As we emphasized in connection 
with the 2015 final rules on submission of evidence, the non-
adversarial nature of the disability adjudication process requires that 
we maintain a high level of cooperation from claimants and, by 
extension, their representatives, in order to ensure that the agency 
obtains the information needed to make accurate disability 
determinations.\6\ Therefore, in order to protect the integrity of our 
programs, we propose strengthening our current rule to prohibit the 
submission

[[Page 54523]]

of false or misleading evidence in matters where the representative has 
or should have reason to believe that the evidence is false or 
misleading and to prohibit any written statements, assertions, or 
representations, which the representative has or should have reason to 
believe are false or misleading. Likewise, in proposed Sec.  
404.1740(c)(7)(ii)(B), we specify that providing misleading information 
or misrepresenting facts that affect how we process a claim may also be 
sanctionable where the representative has or should have reason to 
believe the information or facts would mislead the agency or constitute 
a misrepresentation.
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    \5\ 63 FR 41404 at 41416 (August 4, 1998).
    \6\ See 80 FR 14828 at 14831 (March 20, 2015).
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    Our regulations currently prohibit attempts to influence the 
outcome of a decision, determination, or other administrative action by 
offering or granting an item of value to a presiding official, agency 
employee, or witness who is or may reasonably be involved in the 
decision making process, with certain exemptions. In proposed Sec.  
404.1740(c)(6), we specify that in addition to the current prohibitions 
on offering or granting items of value to agency employees or 
witnesses, we also may sanction a representative who influences or 
attempts to influence such an agency employee or presiding official by 
any means prohibited by law.
    Current Sec.  404.1740(c)(7)(ii) and (iii) addresses disruptive, 
threatening, and obstructive behavior by representatives. In our 
proposed rules, we have renumbered and proposed revisions to these 
rules. Current Sec.  404.1740(c)(7)(iii) prohibits ``threatening or 
intimidating language, gestures, or actions directed at a presiding 
official, witness, or agency employee that result in a disruption of 
the orderly presentation and reception of evidence.'' In our proposed 
rules, we have eliminated the requirement that such threats or 
intimidation result in a disruption of the orderly presentation and 
receipt of evidence, since such threats and intimidations are 
inherently prejudicial to the administrative proceedings. In proposed 
Sec.  404.1740(c)(ii)(C), we add that a representative may not 
communicate with an agency employee or adjudicator outside the normal 
course of business or prescribed procedures in an attempt to influence 
the processing or outcome of a case.

Violations of Our Requirements

    Under our current rules, we may begin proceedings to suspend or 
disqualify a representative when we have evidence that the 
representative fails to meet our qualification requirements or has 
violated our rules of conduct. We propose revising Sec.  404.1745 to 
clarify that we may disqualify a non-attorney representative who has 
been removed from practice or suspended by a professional licensing 
authority for reasons that reflect on the person's character, 
integrity, judgment, reliability, or fitness to serve as a fiduciary.

Notice of Charges Against a Representative

    In Sec.  404.1750, we propose reducing the amount of time a 
representative has to respond to our notice of charges from 30 days to 
14 days because it will help us timely adjudicate possible 
representative misconduct matters and provide efficient service to 
claimants, potential claimants, recipients, and beneficiaries. This 14-
day timeframe provides the representative ample time to respond to the 
charges, which usually consist of simply affirming or denying a series 
of factual allegations. Additionally, there is public interest in 
resolving these matters as quickly as possible because representatives 
may continue to represent claimants during the time that charges are 
pending. Reducing this timeframe will allow us to better protect the 
public by allowing less time for a representative who is found to have 
violated our rules to continue to represent claimants while charges are 
pending. Furthermore, quicker processing of these cases is also of 
particular interest to the person against whom we bring charges because 
it results in a more timely resolution of the matter. Finally, we note 
that irrespective of the reduced timeframe to respond to the charges, 
the representative will still have the opportunity to defend himself or 
herself before the hearing officer conducting the hearing, when a 
hearing is needed.
    In regards to any fairness concerns, we expect that most 
individuals subject to this rule will easily be able to respond within 
the proposed timeframe, as it is not uncommon for us to seek 
disqualification based on a single charge involving legal or factual 
issues that are not complex, such as disbarment or improper retention 
of a fee. As we stated previously, charges usually consist of simply 
affirming or denying a series of factual allegations. However, because 
we propose reducing the standard time for a representative to respond 
to our notice of charges, we also propose retaining the rule to allow a 
representative to seek an extension of time for filing an answer upon a 
showing of good cause. Therefore, if a person against whom we brought 
charges indicates that he or she required additional time to respond, 
we would consider that information in determining whether to extend the 
period for filing an answer. Our current rules specify that the General 
Counsel or other delegated official may extend the period for filing an 
answer for good cause in accordance with Sec.  404.911.

Hearing on the Charges

    We propose clarifying in Sec.  404.1765 that a hearing on the 
charges may be conducted at our discretion in person, by video 
teleconferencing, or by telephone. We add that we will not consider 
objections to the manner of appearance unless a party shows good cause 
why he or she cannot appear in the prescribed manner. We also propose 
to codify our existing policy by clarifying that a hearing officer may 
reopen the hearing for the receipt of additional evidence at any time 
before mailing the notice of the decision, subject to our limitations 
on submitting an answer to the charges. In addition, we propose 
requiring a hearing officer to mail the notice of hearing to the 
parties no later than 14 days prior to the hearing, rather than 20 
days, so that we can conduct sanction proceedings in a timely manner. 
We have also proposed to codify our existing policy regarding hearing 
notices by specifying that a hearing officer will include the 
requirements and instructions for filing motions, requesting witnesses, 
and entering exhibits.
    In addition, we propose rules clarifying the standard upon which 
motions for decisions on the record may be granted. We use a similar 
standard to that stated in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 for 
summary judgment, specifying that a hearing officer may grant a motion 
for decision on the record if there is no genuine dispute as to any 
material fact and the movant is entitled to a decision as a matter of 
law. We have specified that before granting a motion for decision on 
the record, the hearing officer must first provide both parties with 
the opportunity to submit evidence and briefs. We propose this rule 
because, in our experience, many cases can be decided based on the 
record, and a hearing will often be unnecessary and delay any final 
decision. These proposed rules are consistent with the requirements of 
Section 206 of the Act, which specifies that we may suspend or 
disqualify a representative ``after due notice and opportunity for 
hearing.'' Our proposed rules provide for an opportunity for a hearing, 
and the hearing officer may only grant a motion for decision on the 
record if a party demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to 
any material fact, such that any evidence or argument

[[Page 54524]]

presented at the hearing would not alter the outcome of the case.

Requesting Review of the Hearing Officer's Decision

    We propose reducing the amount of time to request Appeals Council 
review of a hearing officer's decision from 30 to 14 days in proposed 
Sec.  404.1775. In our experience, representatives will often decline 
to seek review of adverse sanctions decisions. However, our sanctions 
decision is not final until the time to seek review has expired. During 
this time, a representative may continue to represent claimants. We 
believe that reducing the amount of time to seek Appeals Council review 
from 30 to 14 days will enable us to better protect the claimants we 
serve while providing sufficient protections for representatives in our 
sanctions process. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b) provides 
for a comparable 14-day period to file a notice of appeal in criminal 
matters, in which significant liberty interests are at stake. In 
addition, our rules provide for submission of briefs to the Appeals 
Council subsequent to the filing of the request for review, allowing a 
representative additional time to formulate his or her arguments on 
appeal.

Clarifications to the Appeals Council Review Process

    We propose clarifying in Sec.  404.1780 that in the event a party 
appeals the hearing officer's decision and requests to appear at an 
oral argument, the Appeals Council will determine whether the parties 
will appear at a requested oral argument in person, by video 
teleconferencing, or by telephone.
    Furthermore, we propose revising the rules about presenting 
evidence at the Appeals Council level. Based on our experience, some 
individuals are confused about whether the Appeals Council will accept 
additional evidence that was not submitted to the hearing officer. We 
propose revising the language in Sec.  404.1785 to clarify that the 
Appeals Council, at its discretion, may accept additional evidence it 
finds material to the issues that existed when an individual filed an 
answer to the charges. When it does so, the Appeals Council will give 
the opposing party the opportunity to comment on the evidence prior to 
admitting it into the record. We also added language in proposed Sec.  
404.1790 stating the Appeals Council will determine whether additional 
material evidence warrants remand to a hearing officer for review or 
whether the Appeals Council will consider the evidence as part of its 
review of the case. In addition, we propose adding clarifying language 
in Sec.  404.1790 that explains the Appeals Council will affirm the 
hearing officer's decision if the action, findings, and conclusions are 
supported by substantial evidence. We also propose adding that the 
Appeals Council may designate and publish final decisions as precedent 
for other actions brought against individuals charged with violating 
our rules.
    Finally, we propose revising our rules in Sec.  404.1799 about when 
and how a disqualified or suspended representative may seek the right 
to request reinstatement. Most individuals do not request reinstatement 
until they are in full compliance with our requirements. However, 
individuals who seek reinstatement prematurely waste valuable agency 
resources. Therefore, in addition to retaining our existing rule that a 
disqualified or suspended representative must wait at least one year 
from the effective date of the suspension or disqualification to 
request reinstatement, we propose revising our rules to state that a 
disqualified or sanctioned representative who has requested and been 
denied reinstatement by the Appeals Council must wait an additional 
three years before he or she can again request reinstatement. We are 
proposing this change because our experience shows that when the 
Appeals Council denies a request for reinstatement, the representative 
requesting reinstatement has usually not taken the appropriate actions 
to remedy the violation or does not understand the severity of the 
violation committed. Therefore, we are proposing this change to save 
valuable resources and ensure individuals take the necessary measures 
before submitting the initial or successive request for reinstatement. 
We also made a minor clarification in Sec.  404.1799 that the Appeals 
Council uses the same procedures outlined in Sec.  404.1776 for 
assigning a reviewing panel and processing a request for reinstatement 
after a suspension or disqualification.
    In addition to these proposed changes to 20 CFR part 404, we are 
proposing changes to the rules set forth in 20 CFR part 416 to conform 
to our changes in part 404.

Clarity of These Rules

    Executive Order 12866 as supplemented by Executive Order 13563 
requires each agency to write all rules in plain language. In addition 
to your substantive comments on this NPRM, we invite your comments on 
how to make rules easier to understand.
    For example:
     Would more, but shorter, sections be better?
     Are the requirements in the rule clearly stated?
     Have we organized the material to suit your needs?
     Could we improve clarity by adding tables, lists, or 
diagrams?
     What else could we do to make the rule easier to 
understand?
     Does the rule contain technical language or jargon that is 
not clear?
     Would a different format make the rule easier to 
understand, e.g. grouping and order of sections, use of headings, 
paragraphing?

Regulatory Procedures

Executive Order 12866 as Supplemented by Executive Order 13563

    We consulted with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and 
determined that these proposed rules do meet the criteria for a 
significant regulatory action under Executive Order 12866, as 
supplemented by Executive Order 13563 and are subject to OMB review.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    We certify that these proposed rules will not have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities because they 
affect individuals only. Therefore, a regulatory flexibility analysis 
is not required under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, as amended.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    These proposed rules contain reporting requirements in the 
regulation sections listed below. For some sections in these rules, we 
previously accounted for the public reporting burdens in the 
Information Collection Requests for the various forms the public uses 
to submit the information to SSA. Consequently, we are not reporting 
those sections below. Further, these proposed rules contain information 
collection activities at 20 CFR 404.1750 ((c), (e)(1), and (e)(2)), 
404.1765(g)(1), 404.1775(b), 404.1799(d)(2), 416.1750 ((c), (e)(1), and 
(e)(2)), 416.1565(g)(1), 404.1575(b), and 416.1599(d)(2). However, 44 
U.S.C. 3518(c)(1)(B)(ii) exempts these activities from the OMB 
clearance requirements under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.
    The sections below pose new public reporting burdens not covered by 
an existing OMB-approved form, and we provide burden estimates for 
them.

[[Page 54525]]



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                                                                                             Number of                    Average burden     Estimated
                   Regulation section                          Description of public        respondents    Frequency of    per response    annual burden
                                                              reporting  requirement        (annually)       response        (minutes)        (hours)
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404.1740(b)(5); 416.1540(b)(5)..........................  Disclose in writing, at the             43,600               1               5           3,633
                                                           time a medical or vocational
                                                           opinion is submitted to us or
                                                           as soon as the representative
                                                           is aware of the submission to
                                                           us, if: The representative's
                                                           employee or any individual
                                                           contracting with the
                                                           representative drafted,
                                                           prepared, or issued the
                                                           medical or vocational
                                                           opinion; or.
                                                          The representative referred or
                                                           suggested that the claimant
                                                           seek an examination from,
                                                           treatment by, or the
                                                           assistance of the individual
                                                           providing opinion evidence.
404.1740(b)(6); 416.1540(b)(6)..........................  Disclose to us in writing                   50               1               5               4
                                                           immediately if the
                                                           representative discovers that
                                                           his or her services are or
                                                           were used by the claimant to
                                                           commit fraud.
404.1740(b)(7); 416.1540(b)(7)..........................  Disclose to us in writing                   50               1               5               4
                                                           whether the representative is
                                                           or has been disbarred or
                                                           suspended from any bar or
                                                           court to which he or she was
                                                           previously admitted to
                                                           practice.
404.1740(b)(8); 416.1540(b)(8)..........................  Disclose to us in writing                   10               1               5               1
                                                           whether the representative is
                                                           or has been disqualified from
                                                           participating in or appearing
                                                           before any Federal program or
                                                           agency.
404.1740(b)(9); 416.1540(b)(9)..........................  Disclose to us in writing                   10               1               5               1
                                                           whether the representative
                                                           has been removed from
                                                           practice or suspended by a
                                                           professional licensing
                                                           authority for reasons that
                                                           reflect on the person's
                                                           character, integrity,
                                                           judgement, reliability, or
                                                           fitness to serve as a
                                                           fiduciary.
                                                                                         ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Totals..............................................  ..............................         436,120  ..............  ..............           3,643
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    For those listed above, SSA submitted an Information Collection 
Request for clearance to OMB. We are soliciting comments on the burden 
estimate; the need for the information; its practical utility; ways to 
enhance its quality, utility, and clarity; and ways to minimize the 
burden on respondents, including the use of automated techniques or 
other forms of information technology. If you would like to submit 
comments, please send them to the following locations:

Office of Management and Budget, Attn: Desk Officer for SSA, Fax 
Number: 202-395-6974, Email address: OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov

Social Security Administration, Attn: Reports Clearance Officer, 1333 
Annex, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21235-0001, Fax Number: 410-
965-6400, Email: OR.Reports.Clearance@ssa.gov

    You can submit comments until October 17, 2016, which is 60 days 
after the publication of this notice. However, your comments will be 
most useful if you send them to SSA by September 15, 2016, which is 30 
days after publication. To receive a copy of the OMB clearance package, 
contact the SSA Reports Clearance Officer using any of the above 
contact methods. We prefer to receive comments by email or fax.

(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Program Nos. 96.001, Social 
Security--Disability Insurance; 96.002, Social Security--Retirement 
Insurance; 96.004, Social Security--Survivors Insurance; and 96.006, 
Supplemental Security Income)

List of Subjects

20 CFR Part 404

    Administrative practice and procedure, Blind, Disability benefits; 
Old-age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Social security.

20 CFR Part 416

    Administrative practice and procedure, Aged, Blind, Disability 
benefits, Public assistance programs, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Carolyn W. Colvin,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, we propose to amend 20 CFR 
chapter III parts 404 and part 416 as set forth below:

PART 404--FEDERAL OLD-AGE, SURVIVORS AND DISABILITY INSURANCE 
(1950- )

Subpart R--Representation of Parties

0
1. The authority citation for subpart R of part 404 continues to read 
as follows:

    Authority: Secs. 205(a), 206, 702(a)(5), and 1127 of the Social 
Security Act (42 U.S.C. 405(a), 406, 902(a)(5), and 1320a-6).

0
2. Revise Sec.  404.1705(b) to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1705  Who may be your representative

* * * * *

[[Page 54526]]

    (b) You may appoint any person who is not an attorney to be your 
representative in dealings with us if the person--
    (1) Is capable of giving valuable help to you in connection with 
your claim;
    (2) Is not disqualified or suspended from acting as a 
representative in dealings with us;
    (3) Is not prohibited by any law from acting as a representative; 
and
    (4) Is generally known to have a good character and reputation. 
Persons lacking good character and reputation, include, but are not 
limited to, persons convicted of a felony (as defined by Sec.  
404.1506(c)), or any crime involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, false 
statements, misrepresentation, deceit, or theft.
* * * * *
0
3. Amend Sec.  404.1740 by
0
a. Revising paragraph (b)(3)(i);
0
b. Adding paragraphs (b)(3)(iii) through (v) and (b)(5) through (10);
0
c. Revising paragraphs (c)(1) through (3) and (6) and (7);
0
d. Removing from the end of paragraph (c)(12) the word ``or'';
0
e. Removing from paragraph (c)(13) the final period and adding in its 
place ``; or''; and
0
f. Adding paragraph (c)(14).
    The revisions and additions read as follows:


Sec.  404.1740  Rules of conduct and standards of responsibility for 
representatives.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (3) Conduct his or her dealings in a manner that furthers the 
efficient, fair and orderly conduct of the administrative decision 
making process, including duties to:
    (i) Provide competent representation to a claimant. Competent 
representation requires the knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and 
preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. A 
representative must know the significant issue(s) in a claim, have 
reasonable and adequate familiarity with the evidence in the case, and 
have a working knowledge of the applicable provisions of the Social 
Security Act, as amended, the regulations, and Social Security Rulings.
* * * * *
    (iii) When requested, provide us, in a manner we specify, potential 
dates and times that the representative will be available for a 
hearing. We will inform you how many potential dates and times we 
require to coordinate the hearing schedule.
    (iv) Only withdraw representation at a time and in a manner that 
does not disrupt the processing or adjudication of a claim and provides 
the claimant adequate time to find new representation, if desired. A 
representative should not withdraw after a hearing is scheduled unless 
the representative can show that a withdrawal is necessary due to 
extraordinary circumstances, as we determine on a case-by-case basis.
    (v) Maintain prompt and timely communication with the claimant, 
which includes, but is not limited to, reasonably informing the 
claimant of all matters concerning the representation, consulting with 
the claimant on an ongoing basis during the entire representational 
period, and promptly responding to a claimant's reasonable requests for 
information.
* * * * *
    (5) Disclose in writing, at the time a medical or vocational 
opinion is submitted to us or as soon as the representative is aware of 
the submission to us, if:
    (i) The representative's employee or any individual contracting 
with the representative drafted, prepared, or issued the medical or 
vocational opinion; or
    (ii) The representative referred or suggested that the claimant 
seek an examination from, treatment by, or the assistance of the 
individual providing opinion evidence.
    (6) Disclose to us immediately if the representative discovers that 
his or her services are or were used by the claimant to commit fraud 
against us.
    (7) Disclose to us whether the representative is or has been 
disbarred or suspended from any bar or court to which he or she was 
previously admitted to practice, including instances in which a bar or 
court took administrative action to disbar or suspend the 
representative in lieu of disciplinary proceedings (e.g. acceptance of 
voluntary resignation pending disciplinary action). If the disbarment 
or suspension occurs after the appointment of the representative, the 
representative will immediately disclose the disbarment or suspension 
to us.
    (8) Disclose to us whether the representative is or has been 
disqualified from participating in or appearing before any Federal 
program or agency, including instances in which a Federal program or 
agency took administrative action to disqualify the representative in 
lieu of disciplinary proceedings (e.g. acceptance of voluntary 
resignation pending disciplinary action). If the disqualification 
occurs after the appointment of the representative, the representative 
will immediately disclose the disqualification to us.
    (9) Disclose to us whether the representative has been removed from 
practice or suspended by a professional licensing authority for reasons 
that reflect on the person's character, integrity, judgment, 
reliability, or fitness to serve as a fiduciary. If the removal or 
suspension occurs after the appointment of the representative, the 
representative will immediately disclose the removal or suspension to 
us.
    (10) Ensure that all of the representative's employees, assistants, 
partners, contractors, or any person assisting the representative on 
claims for which the representative has been appointed, are compliant 
with these rules of conduct and standards of responsibility for 
representatives.
    (c) * * *
    (1) In any manner or by any means threaten, coerce, intimidate, 
deceive, or knowingly mislead a claimant, or prospective claimant or 
beneficiary, regarding benefits or other rights under the Act. This 
prohibition includes misleading a claimant, or prospective claimant or 
beneficiary, about the representative's services and qualifications.
    (2) Knowingly charge, collect, or retain, or make any arrangement 
to charge, collect, or retain, from any source, directly or indirectly, 
any fee for representational services in violation of applicable law or 
regulation. This prohibition includes soliciting any gift or any other 
item of value, other than is what is authorized by law.
    (3) Make or present, or participate in the making or presentation 
of, false or misleading oral or written statements, evidence, 
assertions, or representations about a material fact or law concerning 
a matter within our jurisdiction, in matters where the representative 
has or should have reason to believe that those statements, evidence, 
assertions or representations are false or misleading.
* * * * *
    (6) Attempt to influence, directly or indirectly, the outcome of a 
decision, determination, or other administrative action by any means 
prohibited by law, or by offering or granting a loan, gift, 
entertainment, or anything of value to a presiding official, agency 
employee, or witness who is or may reasonably be expected to be 
involved in the administrative decision making process, except as 
reimbursement for legitimately incurred expenses or lawful compensation 
for the services of an expert witness retained on a non-contingency 
basis to provide evidence.

[[Page 54527]]

    (7) Engage in actions or behavior prejudicial to the fair and 
orderly conduct of administrative proceedings, including but not 
limited to:
    (i) Repeated absences from or persistent tardiness at scheduled 
proceedings without good cause (see Sec.  404.911(b));
    (ii) Behavior that has the effect of improperly disrupting 
proceedings or obstructing the adjudicative process, including but not 
limited to:
    (A) Directing threatening or intimidating language, gestures, or 
actions at a presiding official, witness, contractor, or agency 
employee;
    (B) Providing misleading information or misrepresenting facts that 
affect how we process a claim, including but not limited to information 
relating to the claimant's work activity or the claimant's place of 
residence or mailing address in matters where the representative has or 
should have reason to believe that the information was misleading and 
the facts would constitute a misrepresentation;
    (C) Communicating with agency staff or adjudicators outside the 
normal course of business or other prescribed procedures in an attempt 
to inappropriately influence the processing or outcome of a claim(s);
* * * * *
    (14) Fail to oversee the representative's employees, assistants, 
partners, contractors, or any other person assisting the representative 
on claims for which the representative has been appointed, when the 
representative has managerial or supervisory authority over these 
individuals and:
    (i) The individual's conduct would be a violation of these rules of 
conduct and standards of responsibility;
    (ii) The representative has reason to believe that a violation of 
our rules of conduct and standards of responsibility would occur; and
    (iii) When possible, the representative fails to take remedial 
action.
0
4. Amend Sec.  404.1745 by revising paragraphs (d) and (e) and adding 
paragraph (f) to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1745  Violations of our requirements, rules, or standards.

* * * * *
    (d) Has been, by reason of misconduct, disbarred or suspended from 
any bar or court to which he or she was previously admitted to practice 
(see Sec.  404.1770(a));
    (e) Has been, by reason of misconduct, disqualified from 
participating in or appearing before any Federal program or agency (see 
Sec.  404.1770(a)); or
    (f) Who is a non-attorney, has been removed from practice or 
suspended by a professional licensing authority for reasons that 
reflect on the person's character, integrity, judgment, reliability, or 
fitness to serve as a fiduciary.
0
5. Revise Sec.  404.1750(c) through (f) to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1750  Notice of charges against a representative.

* * * * *
    (c) We will advise the representative to file an answer, within 14 
days from the date of the notice, or from the date the notice was 
delivered personally, stating why he or she should not be suspended or 
disqualified from acting as a representative in dealings with us.
    (d) The General Counsel or other delegated official may extend the 
14-day period for good cause in accordance with Sec.  404.911.
    (e) The representative must--
    (1) Answer the notice in writing under oath (or affirmation); and
    (2) File the answer with the Social Security Administration, at the 
address specified on the notice, within the 14-day time period.
    (f) If the representative does not file an answer within the 14-day 
time period, he or she does not have the right to present evidence, 
except as may be provided in Sec.  404.1765(g).
0
6. Amend Sec.  404.1765 by revising paragraphs (c), (d)(1) and (3), and 
(g) to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1765  Hearing on charges.

* * * * *
    (c) Time and place of hearing. The hearing officer will mail the 
parties a written notice of the hearing at their last known addresses, 
at least 14 days before the date set for the hearing. The notice will 
inform the parties whether the appearance of the parties or any 
witnesses will be in person, by video teleconferencing, or by 
telephone. The notice will also include requirements and instructions 
for filing motions, requesting witnesses, and entering exhibits.
    (d) * * * (1) The hearing officer may change the time and place for 
the hearing, either on his or her own initiative, or at the request of 
the representative or the other party to the hearing. The hearing 
officer will not consider objections to the manner of appearance of 
parties or witnesses, unless the party shows good cause not to appear 
in the prescribed manner.
* * * * *
    (3) Subject to the limitations in paragraph (g)(2) of this section, 
the hearing officer may reopen the hearing for the receipt of 
additional evidence at any time before mailing notice of the decision.
* * * * *
    (g) Conduct of the hearing. (1) The representative or the other 
party may file a motion for decision on the basis of the record prior 
to the hearing. The hearing officer will give the representative and 
the other party a reasonable amount of time to submit any evidence and 
to file briefs or other written statements as to fact and law prior to 
deciding the motion. If the hearing officer concludes that there is no 
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a 
decision as a matter of law, the hearing officer may grant the motion 
and issue a decision in accordance with the provisions of Sec.  
404.1770.
    (2) If the representative did not file an answer to the charges, he 
or she has no right to present evidence at the hearing. The hearing 
officer may make or recommend a decision on the basis of the record, or 
permit the representative to present a statement about the sufficiency 
of the evidence or the validity of the proceedings upon which the 
suspension or disqualification, if it occurred, would be based.
    (3) The hearing officer will make the hearing open to the 
representative, to the other party, and to any persons the hearing 
officer or the parties consider necessary or proper. The hearing 
officer will inquire fully into the matters being considered, hear the 
testimony of witnesses, and accept any documents that are material.
    (4) The hearing officer has the right to decide the order in which 
the evidence and the allegations will be presented and the conduct of 
the hearing.
* * * * *
0
7. Revise Sec.  404.1775(b) to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1775  Requesting review of the hearing officer's decision.

* * * * *
    (b) Time and place of filing request for review. The party 
requesting review will file the request for review in writing with the 
Appeals Council within 14 days from the date the hearing officer mailed 
the notice. The party requesting review will certify that a copy of the 
request for review and of any documents that are submitted have been 
mailed to the opposing party.
0
8. Revise Sec.  404.1780(a) to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1780  Appeals Council's review of hearing officer's decision.

    (a) Upon request, the Appeals Council will give the parties a 
reasonable time

[[Page 54528]]

to file briefs or other written statements as to fact and law, and to 
request to appear before the Appeals Council to present oral argument. 
When oral argument is requested within the time designated by the 
Appeals Council, the Appeals Council will grant the request for oral 
argument and determine whether the parties will appear at the oral 
argument in person, by video teleconferencing, or by telephone. If oral 
argument is not requested within the time designated by the Appeals 
Council, the Appeals Council may deny the request.
* * * * *
0
9. Revise Sec.  404.1785 to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1785  Evidence permitted on review.

    (a) General. Generally, the Appeals Council will not consider 
evidence in addition to that introduced at the hearing. However, if the 
Appeals Council finds the evidence offered is material to an issue it 
is considering, it may consider that evidence as described in paragraph 
(b) of this section.
    (b) Individual charged filed an answer. (1) When the Appeals 
Council finds that additional material evidence to the charges is 
available, and the individual charged filed an answer to the charges, 
the Appeals Council will allow the party with the information to submit 
the additional evidence.
    (2) Before the additional evidence is admitted into the record, the 
Appeals Council will mail a notice to the parties, informing them that 
evidence about certain issues was submitted. The Appeals Council will 
give each party a reasonable opportunity to comment on the evidence and 
to present other evidence that is material to the issue it is 
considering.
    (3) The Appeals Council will determine whether the additional 
evidence warrants a new review by a hearing officer or whether the 
Appeals Council will consider the additional evidence as part of its 
review of the case.
    (c) Individual charged did not file an answer. If the 
representative did not file an answer to the charges, the 
representative may not introduce evidence that was not considered at 
the hearing.
0
10. Amend Sec.  404.1790 by revising paragraph (a) and adding paragraph 
(f) to read as follows:


Sec.  404.1790  Appeals Council's decision.

    (a) The Appeals Council will base its decision upon the evidence in 
the hearing record and any other evidence it may permit on review. The 
Appeals Council will affirm the hearing officer's decision if the 
action, findings, and conclusions are supported by substantial 
evidence. If the hearing officer's decision is not supported by 
substantial evidence, the Appeals Council will either:
    (1) Reverse or modify the hearing officer's decision; or
    (2) Return the case to the hearing officer for further proceedings.
* * * * *
    (f) The Appeals Council may designate and publish certain final 
decisions as precedent for other actions brought under our 
representative conduct provisions. Prior to making a decision public, 
we may remove or redact information from the decision.
0
11. Amend Sec.  404.1799 by:
0
a. Adding a sentence to the end of paragraph (a); and
0
b. Revising paragraphs (d)(2) and (f).
    The additions and revisions read as follows:


Sec.  404.1799  Reinstatement after suspension or disqualification--
period of suspension not expired.

    (a) * * * The Appeals Council will assign and process a request for 
reinstatement using the same general procedures described in Sec.  
404.1776.
* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (2) If a person was disqualified because he or she had been 
disbarred, suspended, or removed from practice for the reasons 
described in Sec.  404.1745(d) through (f), the Appeals Council will 
grant a request for reinstatement as a representative only if the 
criterion in paragraph (d)(1) of this section is met and the 
disqualified person shows that he or she has been admitted (or 
readmitted) to and is in good standing with the court, bar, or other 
governmental or professional licensing authority from which he or she 
had been disbarred, suspended, or removed from practice.
* * * * *
    (f) If the Appeals Council decides not to grant the request, it 
will not consider another request before the end of 3 years from the 
date of the notice of the previous denial.

PART 416--SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME FOR THE AGED, BLIND, AND 
DISABLED

Subpart O--Representation of Parties

0
12. The authority citation for subpart O of part 416 continues to read 
as follows:

    Authority: Secs. 702(a)(5), 1127 and 1631(d) of the Social 
Security Act (42 U.S.C. 902(a)(5), 1320a-6 and 1383(d)).

0
13. Revise Sec.  416.1505(b) to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1505  Who may be your representative.

* * * * *
    (b) You may appoint any person who is not an attorney to be your 
representative in dealings with us if the person--
    (1) Is capable of giving valuable help to you in connection with 
your claim;
    (2) Is not disqualified or suspended from acting as a 
representative in dealings with us;
    (3) Is not prohibited by any law from acting as a representative; 
and
    (4) Is generally known to have a good character and reputation. 
Persons lacking good character and reputation, include, but are not 
limited to, persons convicted of a felony (as defined by Sec.  
404.1506(c)) of this chapter, or any crime involving moral turpitude, 
dishonesty, false statement, misrepresentations, deceit, or theft.
* * * * *
0
14. Amend Sec.  416.1540 by:
0
a. Revising paragraph (b)(3) introductory text and (b)(3)(i);
0
b. Adding paragraphs (b)(3)(iii) through (v) and (b)(5) through (10);
0
c. Revising paragraphs (c)(1) through (3), (c)(6), and (c)(7)(i) and 
(ii); and
0
d. Adding paragraph (c)(14).
    The revisions and additions read as follows:


Sec.  416.1540  Rules of conduct and standards of responsibility for 
representatives.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (3) Conduct his or her dealings in a manner that furthers the 
efficient, fair and orderly conduct of the administrative decision 
making process, including duties to:
    (i) Provide competent representation to a claimant. Competent 
representation requires the knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and 
preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. A 
representative must know the significant issue(s) in a claim, have 
reasonable and adequate familiarity with the evidence in the case, and 
have a working knowledge of the applicable provisions of the Social 
Security Act, as amended, the regulations, and Social Security Rulings.
* * * * *
    (iii) When requested, provide us, in a manner we specify, potential 
dates and times that the representative will be available for a 
hearing. We will inform you how many potential dates and times we 
require to coordinate the hearing schedule.

[[Page 54529]]

    (iv) Only withdraw representation at a time and in a manner that 
does not disrupt the processing or adjudication of a claim and provides 
the claimant adequate time to find new representation, if desired. A 
representative should not withdraw after a hearing is scheduled unless 
the representative can show that a withdrawal is necessary due to 
extraordinary circumstances, as we determine on a case-by-case basis.
    (v) Maintain prompt and timely communication with the claimant, 
which includes, but is not limited to, reasonably informing the 
claimant of all matters concerning the representation, consulting with 
the claimant on an ongoing basis during the entire representational 
period, and promptly responding to a claimant's reasonable requests for 
information.
* * * * *
    (5) Disclose in writing, at the time a medical or vocational 
opinion is submitted to us or as soon as the representative is aware of 
the submission to us, if:
    (i) The representative's employee or any individual contracting 
with the representative drafted, prepared, or issued the medical or 
vocational opinion; or
    (ii) The representative referred or suggested that the claimant 
seek an examination from, treatment by, or the assistance of the 
individual providing opinion evidence.
    (6) Disclose to us immediately if the representative discovers that 
his or her services are or were used by the claimant to commit fraud 
against us.
    (7) Disclose to us if the representative is or has been disbarred 
or suspended from any bar or court to which he or she was previously 
admitted to practice, including instances in which a bar or court took 
administrative action to disbar or suspend the representative in lieu 
of disciplinary proceedings (e.g. acceptance of voluntary resignation 
pending disciplinary action). If the disbarment or suspension occurs 
after the appointment of the representative, the representative will 
immediately disclose the disbarment or suspension to us.
    (8) Disclose to us whether the representative is or has been 
disqualified from participating in or appearing before any Federal 
program or agency, including instances in which a Federal program or 
agency took administrative action to disqualify the representative in 
lieu of disciplinary proceedings (e.g. acceptance of voluntary 
resignation pending disciplinary action). If the disbarment or 
suspension occurs after the appointment of the representative, the 
representative will immediately disclose the disqualification to us.
    (9) Disclose to us whether the representative has been removed from 
practice or suspended by a professional licensing authority for reasons 
that reflect on the person's character, integrity, judgment, 
reliability, or fitness to serve as a fiduciary. If the removal or 
suspension occurs after the appointment of the representative, the 
representative will immediately disclose the removal or suspension to 
us.
    (10) Ensure that all of the representative's employees, assistants, 
partners, contractors, or any person assisting the representative on 
claims for which the representative has been appointed, are compliant 
with these rules of conduct and standards of responsibility for 
representatives.
    (c) * * *
    (1) In any manner or by any means threaten, coerce, intimidate, 
deceive, or knowingly mislead a claimant, or prospective claimant or 
beneficiary, regarding benefits or other rights under the Act. This 
prohibition includes misleading a claimant, or prospective claimant or 
beneficiary, about the representative's services and qualifications.
    (2) Knowingly charge, collect, or retain, or make any arrangement 
to charge, collect, or retain, from any source, directly or indirectly, 
any fee for representational services in violation of applicable law or 
regulation. This prohibition includes soliciting any gift or any other 
item of value, other than is what is authorized by law.
    (3) Make or present, or participate in the making or presentation 
of, false or misleading oral or written statements, evidence, 
assertions, or representations about a material fact or law concerning 
a matter within our jurisdiction, in matters where the representative 
has or should have reason to believe that those statements, evidence, 
assertions or representations are false or misleading.
* * * * *
    (6) Attempt to influence, directly or indirectly, the outcome of a 
decision, determination, or other administrative action by any means 
prohibited by law, or by offering or granting a loan, gift, 
entertainment, or anything of value to a presiding official, agency 
employee, or witness who is or may reasonably be expected to be 
involved in the administrative decision making process, except as 
reimbursement for legitimately incurred expenses or lawful compensation 
for the services of an expert witness retained on a non-contingency 
basis to provide evidence.
    (7) * * *
    (i) Repeated absences from or persistent tardiness at scheduled 
proceedings without good cause (see Sec.  416.1411(b));
    (ii) Behavior that has the effect of improperly disrupting 
proceedings or obstructing the adjudicative process, including but not 
limited to:
    (A) Directing threatening or intimidating language, gestures, or 
actions at a presiding official, witness, contractor, or agency 
employee;
    (B) Providing misleading information or misrepresenting facts that 
affect how we process a claim, including but not limited to information 
relating to the claimant's work activity or the claimant's place of 
residence or mailing address in matters where the representative has or 
should have reason to believe that the information was misleading and 
the facts would constitute a misrepresentation;
    (C) Communicating with agency staff or adjudicators outside the 
normal course of business or other prescribed procedures in an attempt 
to inappropriately influence the processing or outcome of a claim(s);
* * * * *
    (14) Fail to oversee the representative's employees, assistants, 
partners, contractors, or any other person assisting the representative 
on claims for which the representative has been appointed, when the 
representative has managerial or supervisory authority over these 
individuals and:
    (i) The individual's conduct would be a violation of these rules of 
conduct and standards of responsibility;
    (ii) The representative has reason to believe a violation of our 
rules of conduct and standards of responsibility would occur; and
    (iii) When possible, the representative fails to take remedial 
action.
0
15. Amend Sec.  416.1545 by revising paragraphs (d) and (e) and adding 
paragraph (f) to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1545  Violations of our requirements, rules, or standards.

* * * * *
    (d) Has been, by reason of misconduct, disbarred or suspended from 
any bar or court to which he or she was previously admitted to practice 
(see Sec.  416.1570(a));
    (e) Has been, by reason of misconduct, disqualified from 
participating in or appearing before any Federal program or agency (see 
Sec.  416.1570(a)); or
    (f) Who is a non-attorney, has been removed from practice or 
suspended by a professional licensing authority for reasons that 
reflect on the person's

[[Page 54530]]

character, integrity, judgment, reliability, or fitness to serve as a 
fiduciary.
0
16. Revise Sec.  416.1550(c) through (f) to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1550  Notice of charges against a representative.

* * * * *
    (c) We will advise the representative to file an answer, within 14 
days from the date of the notice, or from the date the notice was 
delivered personally, stating why he or she should not be suspended or 
disqualified from acting as a representative in dealings with us.
    (d) The General Counsel or other delegated official may extend the 
14-day period for good cause in accordance with Sec.  416.1411.
    (e) The representative must--
    (1) Answer the notice in writing under oath (or affirmation); and
    (2) File the answer with the Social Security Administration, at the 
address specified on the notice, within the 14-day time period.
    (f) If the representative does not file an answer within the 14-day 
time period, he or she does not have the right to present evidence, 
except as may be provided in Sec.  416.1565(g).
0
17. Amend Sec.  416.1565 by revising paragraphs (c), (d)(1) and (2), 
and (g) to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1565  Hearing on charges.

* * * * *
    (c) Time and place of hearing. The hearing officer will mail the 
parties a written notice of the hearing at their last known addresses, 
at least 14 days before the date set for the hearing. The notice will 
inform the parties whether the appearance of the parties or any 
witnesses will be in person, by video teleconferencing, or by 
telephone. The notice will also include requirements and instructions 
for filing motions, requesting witnesses, and entering exhibits.
    (d) * * * (1) The hearing officer may change the time and place for 
the hearing, either on his or her own initiative, or at the request of 
the representative or the other party to the hearing. The hearing 
officer will not consider objections to the manner of appearance of 
parties or witnesses, unless the party shows good cause not to appear 
in the prescribed manner.
* * * * *
    (3) Subject to the limitations in paragraph (g)(2) of this section, 
the hearing officer may reopen the hearing for the receipt of 
additional evidence at any time before mailing notice of the decision.
* * * * *
    (g) Conduct of the hearing. (1) The representative or the other 
party may file a motion for decision on the basis of the record prior 
to the hearing. The hearing officer will give the representative and 
the other party a reasonable amount of time to submit any evidence and 
to file briefs or other written statements as to fact and law prior to 
deciding the motion. If the hearing officer concludes that there is no 
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a 
decision as a matter of law, the hearing officer may grant the motion 
and issue a decision in accordance with the provisions of Sec.  
416.1570.
    (2) If the representative did not file an answer to the charges, he 
or she has no right to present evidence at the hearing. The hearing 
officer may make or recommend a decision on the basis of the record, or 
permit the representative to present a statement about the sufficiency 
of the evidence or the validity of the proceedings upon which the 
suspension or disqualification, if it occurred, would be based.
    (3) The hearing officer will make the hearing open to the 
representative, to the other party, and to any persons the hearing 
officer or the parties consider necessary or proper. The hearing 
officer will inquire fully into the matters being considered, hear the 
testimony of witnesses, and accept any documents that are material.
    (4) The hearing officer has the right to decide the order in which 
the evidence and the allegations will be presented and the conduct of 
the hearing.
* * * * *
0
18. Revise Sec.  416.1575(b) to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1575  Requesting review of the hearing officer's decision.

* * * * *
    (b) Time and place of filing request for review. The party 
requesting review will file the request for review in writing with the 
Appeals Council within 14 days from the date the hearing officer mailed 
the notice. The party requesting review will certify that a copy of the 
request for review and of any documents that are submitted have been 
mailed to the opposing party.
0
19. Revise Sec.  416.1580(a) to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1580  Appeals Council's review of hearing officer's decision.

    (a) Upon request, the Appeals Council will give the parties a 
reasonable time to file briefs or other written statements as to fact 
and law, and to request to appear before the Appeals Council to present 
oral argument. When oral argument is requested within the time 
designated by the Appeals Council, the Appeals Council will grant the 
request for oral argument, and determine whether the parties will 
appear at the oral argument in person, by video teleconferencing, or by 
telephone. If oral argument is not requested within the time designated 
by the Appeals Council, the Appeals Council may deny the request.
* * * * *
0
20. Revise Sec.  416.1585 to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1585  Evidence permitted on review.

    (a) General. Generally, the Appeals Council will not consider 
evidence in addition to that introduced at the hearing. However, if the 
Appeals Council finds the evidence offered is material to an issue it 
is considering, it may consider that evidence as described in paragraph 
(b) of this section.
    (b) Individual charged filed an answer. (1) When the Appeals 
Council finds that additional material evidence to the charges is 
available, and the individual charged filed an answer to the charges, 
the Appeals Council will allow the party with the information to submit 
the additional evidence.
    (2) Before the additional evidence is admitted into the record, the 
Appeals Council will mail a notice to the parties, informing them that 
evidence about certain issues was submitted. The Appeals Council will 
give each party a reasonable opportunity to comment on the evidence and 
to present other evidence that is material to the issue it is 
considering.
    (3) The Appeals Council will determine whether the additional 
evidence warrants a new review by a hearing officer or whether the 
Appeals Council will consider the additional evidence as part of its 
review of the case.
    (c) Individual charged did not file an answer. If the 
representative did not file an answer to the charges, the 
representative may not introduce evidence that was not considered at 
the hearing.
0
21. Amend Sec.  416.1590 by revising paragraph (a) and adding paragraph 
(f) to read as follows:


Sec.  416.1590  Appeals Council's decision.

    (a) The Appeals Council will base its decision upon the evidence in 
the hearing record and any other evidence it may permit on review. The 
Appeals Council will affirm the hearing officer's decision if the 
action, findings, and conclusions are supported by substantial 
evidence. If the hearing officer's decision is not supported by

[[Page 54531]]

substantial evidence, the Appeals Council will either:
    (1) Reverse or modify the hearing officer's decision; or
    (2) Return the case to the hearing officer for further proceedings.
* * * * *
    (f) The Appeals Council may designate and publish certain final 
decisions as precedent for other actions brought under our 
representative conduct provisions. Prior to making a decision public, 
we may remove or redact information from the decision.
0
22. Amend Sec.  416.1599 by:
0
a. Adding a sentence to the end of paragraph (a); and
0
b. Revising paragraphs (d)(2) and (f).
    The additions and revisions read as follows:


Sec.  416.1599  Reinstatement after suspension or disqualification--
period of suspension not expired.

    (a) * * * The Appeals Council will assign and process a request for 
reinstatement using the same general procedures described in Sec.  
416.1576.
* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (2) If a person was disqualified because he or she had been 
disbarred, suspended, or removed from practice for the reasons 
described in Sec.  416.1545(d) through (f), the Appeals Council will 
grant a request for reinstatement as a representative only if the 
criterion in paragraph (d)(1) of this section is met and the 
disqualified person shows that he or she has been admitted (or 
readmitted) to and is in good standing with the court, bar, or other 
governmental or professional licensing authority from which he or she 
had been disbarred, suspended, or removed from practice.
* * * * *
    (f) If the Appeals Council decides not to grant the request, it 
will not consider another request before the end of 3 years from the 
date of the notice of the previous denial.
[FR Doc. 2016-19384 Filed 8-15-16; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4191-02-P