retical basis for believing that such a standardized, global instrument existed or can be constructed before launching the literature review project on the subject. Skeptical of one global, standardized, universally accepted measure, the committee recommended that SSA develop alternative research plans for development and use of functional measures in the disability decision process in the event that the proposed global standardized functional assessment instrument is not developed and tested (IOM, 1998).
In 1996, SSA contracted with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature pertaining to systems and methods of classifying occupations in terms of the physical and mental capacities required, to develop a taxonomy of occupational classification systems, and to assess the applicability of systems for SSA’s redesigned disability determination process. This review relates directly to one of the key elements in the proposed redesigned disability decision process, namely, assessing baseline work. The purpose of the review is to determine if a standard exists, and if not, whether it is feasible to develop one to describe basic physical and mental demands of a baseline of work. AIR concluded that while none of the occupational classification systems exactly or ideally matched SSA’s needs, the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) under development was the closest match to SSA’s needs. O*NET is an occupational classification system being developed by the Department of Labor (DOL) under contract with AIR to replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. One of the reasons AIR recommended O*NET over the other systems is because it uses level scales to measure the amount of skill needed to perform certain jobs. Incumbents choose a numeric rating based on their reading of the behavioral anchors. Cognitive and mental descriptors are also included in O*NET, but the physical ability scales that O*NET uses may not be specific enough to help SSA. Many other issues were identified by the contractor that need to be resolved before O*NET can be used for SSA’s purposes. These issues are described in the committee’s interim report (IOM, 1998) and are discussed further later in this chapter. The committee questioned how O*NET will be used. SSA’s research design did not appear to be oriented to address this question. How does SSA plan to supplement O*NET with respect to contextual or other factors that are not well covered. There were no indications in the research plan that the gaps in O*NET would be carefully considered and specific research identified to fill those gaps. The committee also was concerned about the synchronization of timing for completion of O*NET and SSA’s target completion of the research for development and implementation of the disability decision process. The committee recommended that SSA develop an interim plan for an occupational classification system in the event that the O*NET database is either not completed