A vocational expert is an “expert witness” called by the Social Security Administration to testify at a disability appeal hearing. The vocational expert classifies a claimant’s past relevant work to determine whether the claimant can still perform those jobs given the claimant’s limitations or whether any of the skills in that job can be transferable to other jobs. The vocational expert also testifies as to whether a claimant can perform other jobs in the national economy and indicates the number of those jobs that are available both locally and nationally. The testimony of a vocational expert is important because the vocational expert’s opinion about a claimant’s ability to perform work usually determines the outcome of the case.
The vocation expert’s testimony must be based on reliable methods.
Social Security Ruling 00-4p states that an Administrative Law Judge must make a specific finding that the evidence presented by the vocational expert is reliable and requires that the Administrative Law Judge ask if the testimony conflicts with the dictionary of occupational titles. If a conflict exists it is necessary to get a reasonable explanation for the conflict. Moreover, if the vocational expert provides testimony or evidence outside the scope of the dictionary of occupational titles, then the vocational expert must give a reasonable explanation.
It is not enough for the vocational expert to base that explanation solely on his or her experience as a vocational expert. One must remember that twenty five years experience is not a methodology but is a work history. The Administrative Law Judge may not rely on a vocational expert’s testimony if the data and reasoning are not available on demand when that foundation is challenged. If the vocational expert relies on his or her own research, then he or she should be prepared to produce documents on which that research was based.