The problems surrounding the SSA's disability program are so massive that Svahn has asked deputy commissioner Paul Simmons to focus on them.

Under a congressional mandate to review the cases of everyone on the rolls -- except those who are permanently disabled -- to see if they are really too sick to work, the agency had planned to check 806,000 cases in fiscal 1983 as part of a three-year review.

As the effort proceeded there were many protests, and newspaper accounts portrayed people as being pushed off the rolls hastily and unfairly. Congress weighed in with a raft of complaints that state officials, who handle much of the review work, were moving too fast.

Looking over the complaints, Svahn and Simmons decided to expand the definition of "permanently disabled," and thus were able to cut the number of cases to be reviewed to 640,000. Svahn also instituted a Face-to-Face program in which anyone chosen for a review is first summoned to the local Social Security office and is told how the process will work, what evidence to submit and so forth. Previously, those under review seldom had a chance to explain their situations in person until very late in the appeals process.

Simmons said about 40 percent of those under review are initially found ineligible, and steps are taken to discontinue their benefits. But many of them appeal or ask for reconsideration and win back their benefits in the end.