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Biden nominates former Maryland Governor as the next Social Security Commissioner

By Lauryn July 28, 2023

In July 2021, President Joe Biden removed Andrew Saul from his position as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA). Since then, Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi has taken the mantel as Acting Commissioner while President Biden mulled over possible replacements for permanent tenure. It seems a decision has finally been made, as earlier this week, President Biden announced former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as his nominee for the next Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The nomination comes approximately two years into Dr. Kijakazi’s tenure as Acting Commissioner, which has seen her navigate SSA’s course through pandemic-related productivity challenges. The nomination now moves to the Senate for confirmation, where supporters hope for a quick approval. If confirmed, O’Malley will serve the rest of Saul’s term through January 19, 2025. This tenure will have a significant influence on policy, operations, and the agency’s go-forward approach to addressing the challenges within the organization, including those attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign for Commissioner
Soon after President Biden relieved Saul of his position, the campaign for the next Commissioner began. Early contenders in the “behind-the-scenes” campaign included Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works, Seth Harris, former United States Deputy Secretary of Labor, and Donna Shalala, former United States Secretary of Health and Human Services. Throughout Acting Commissioner Dr. Kijakazi’s tenure, other names have shown up as contenders, but none have stuck until now. This nomination comes nearly one year after President Biden was urged by 16 sitting United States Senators to appoint a permanent replacement for stability and accountability within the agency. Morale among employees at Social Security continues to remain low, despite efforts by Dr. Kijakazi and her team. Many hope that some of the downturns may be addressed by instituting a permanent commissioner in the term left vacated by Saul.

O’Malley as Commissioner: The impact on Social Security
Governor O’Malley has been in public service for more than three decades. Serving as the Mayor of Baltimore before becoming Governor of Maryland, O’Malley’s platform includes putting Americans first and keeping the government accountable. In his statement on the nomination, President Biden notes, “Governor O’Malley is a lifelong public servant who has spent his career making government more accessible and transparent, while keeping the American people at the heart of his work.”

After his Gubernatorial career, O’Malley threw his hat in the ring and was an early contender for the 2016 Democratic Party Presidential Nomination. During his campaign, he unveiled his agenda, which included an aggressive increase in retirement savings of more than 50% over the course of two theoretical terms. Significant improvements and increases in Social Security benefits would drive a large part of this increase. While he ultimately did not secure the nomination, there is no indication that O’Malley would not continue down this same path as Commissioner, hoping to bridge the financial gap that exists for many relying on Social Security benefits.

While a transition to new leadership under O’Malley may look different than previous Administrations, this change may be what Social Security needs to modernize and continue providing benefits and services to millions of Americans. O’Malley has a track record for using data and analytics to help the government work smarter, not harder, based on results. President Biden notes, “A pioneer of using performance-management and customer service technologies in government, O’Malley has written extensively about how to govern for better results in the Information Age by measuring the outputs of government on a real-time basis.” Implementing new analytic technologies could help reduce Social Security claim backlogs by freeing up time and resources to support complex claim work while the technology can target claims that qualify for expedited decision-making.

What happens next
The United States Congress is currently on recess through the month of August, so no changes will occur during that time. Even after Congress reconvenes, Governor O’Malley may still need to wait several weeks – or even months – before his confirmation process begins. We will continue to watch this nomination and confirmation closely and share any developments pertaining to a permanent replacement for the Social Security Commissioner.

With increasing concerns surrounding the solvency of the Social Security Trust Funds and stories of rising backlogs and wait times peppering news cycles, the appointment of a new Commissioner could be seen as yet another delay or concern to add to the list. Rest assured, any changes in leadership will not have an impact on any applications currently pending or waiting to be filed, just as the removal of Andrew Saul as Commissioner in July 2021 had no impact on claims. If you are concerned about this transition or have any questions, you can reach out to your local Social Security office or contact Brown & Brown directly.

We remain supportive of the leadership at Social Security and hope to see meaningful change in the coming months.

Please note that as of 2021, The Advocator Group now conducts business as Brown & Brown Absence Services Group. While our name may have changed, our commitment to excellent service and helping our clients in as many ways as possible has not.

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