After a hearing before the Social Security Administration, the administrative law judge (ALJ) shall issue a written decision which gives the findings of fact and reasons for the decision. Although the ALJ will usually render a final decision, appealable only to the Appeals Council, the ALJ may also send the case directly to the Appeals Council with a recommended decision based on a preponderance of the evidence when appropriate. (The Appeals Council may also review any ALJ decision or dismissal within 60 days of the decision on its own motion). Conditions for a recommended decision may be appropriate where the case involves a novel issue of policy or procedure, or where the ALJ is attempting to comply with a remand order which is unusually vague. The ALJ must be able to articulate why a recommended decision is appropriate, and should not issue a recommended decision simply based on personal disagreement with agency policies, or merely to avoid issuing a decision on a particular case.
To avoid creating an undeveloped record, the Appeals Council gives ALJ recommended decisions expedited processing. After the Appeals Council has reviewed the evidence in the hearing record, it may choose to adopt, modify, or reject the recommended decision on the behalf of the Commissioner, and/or remand the case for further action by an ALJ.
In the past, appellate review guidelines directed that the recommended decision becomes the final decision if the Commissioner does not reverse or modify the recommended decision within 60 days of the recommended decision, although current administrative regulations do not appear to specifically address this event. Under the Federal Administrative Procedures Act, if administrative appeal or review is not commenced within the time specified by agency rule, then the initial decision becomes the final decision of the agency.