The Social Security Administration has taken heat from Congressional watchdogs for years over the lengthy time it takes to process appeals from Americans who are denied disability benefits.

The agency has seen an upswing in applications for benefits since the economy worsened and many people with disabilities were laid off from their jobs.

A report out Monday from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse criticizes Social Security for the lag in clearing out the backlog. But in an unusually strong-willed response, Social Security Commissioner Michael A. Astrue got on the phone with us to denounce the report, saying his staff has made real progress in processing appeals.

One of the interesting issues here is what Americans should expect from government agencies and how low or high the bar for responsiveness should be. Astrue said he is working toward processing appeals in no less than 270 days, and that’s largely why he disputes the report. He says that gives applicants time to hire lawyers and advocates. Another way to look at it would be that nearly nine months is a long time.