Sunday, February 24, 2013

Social Security Needs A Leader

 When historians write about this period in American history, a single word will sum it up: obstructionism.

Delays in enacting the Affordable Care Act, drafting tax reform legislation, fixing the U.S. Postal Service and confirming judges and agency heads all can be attributed to the refusal of the two political parties to cooperate.

Congress bears most of the blame. Senate Republicans have used the threat of a filibuster to halt programs espoused by the White House while House Speaker John Boehner has said the mission of that body should be to repeal rather than enact new laws.

But the Obama administration is not without blame. It has dragged its feet when it comes to filling certain department posts.

The Congressional Research Service found that 90 of the 346 federal department positions that require the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate were unfilled as of mid-May. That's more than one in four.

Part of that is attributable to partisan opposition. But researchers discovered that President Obama had not even nominated individuals for several dozen unfilled posts.

One of those empty posts is that of commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Michael J. Astrue's six-year term as commissioner expired on Jan. 19. To date, the Obama administration has not nominated a successor.

Carolyn W. Colvin, a former Maryland state official, has served as acting commissioner since Astrue stepped down and has earned praise for her work.

But lawmakers — as well as Social Security personnel — are concerned.

While payments to recipients have not been affected, SSA employees have endured rolling furloughs due to the federal sequester, and the agency is preparing for further cuts when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

At the same time, the Obama administration has proposed a new way to gauge inflation — the chained Consumer Price Index — that would lead to reduced increases in Social Security payments over time.

These issues must be dealt with and members of Congress agree that the Social Security Administration needs a leader to help guide the agency through what appear to be rough seas ahead.

Although President Ronald Reagan did not name a successor for three years — he allowed Martha A. McSteen to serve as acting commissioner during that time — she did not face the kinds of issues or the bald partisanship that now permeates Washington.

And even though Democrats know that whoever Obama nominates will likely receive a hostile reception from Senate Republicans, they believe it is important to begin the process so a new commissioner will be in place to guide the agency as changes take place.

Acting commissioners, even those who are well-suited for the job, are limited as to what they can achieve.

Social Security needs a commissioner who can lead, not merely guide, the agency through the next six years.
On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  Prior to this designation, she served as the Deputy Commissioner, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2010 as President Obama’s nominee.  In addition to her role as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Ms. Colvin serves as a Trustee to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren.
A top lawmaker January 16 demanded a top-to-bottom review of the Social Security Administration’s management structure, following a series of disability scandals that have rocked the agency and led to widespread government scrutiny.
Rep. Sam Johnson (R., Texas), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees Social Security, directed the Social Security Administration’s inspector general to launch the review.
The demand comes one week after the Manhattan District Attorney’s office brought a case alleging more than 100 people – including former firemen and police officers – were cheating the Social Security Disability Insurance program by improperly collecting benefits when they shouldn’t have.

In August, the U.S. Attorney in Puerto Rico brought another large case alleging widescale disability fraud — one of the largest sweeps since the program was created in the 1950s and the first major case since the program’s rapid expansion during the financial crisis.
And the Justice Department is also looking into whether there was an improper relationship between a former Social Security judge (Daugherty) in West Virginia and a disability lawyer in Kentucky.

The Social Security Administration primarily authorizes two kinds of benefits, one for older Americans and another for people who are no longer able to work because of health problems.
The disability program pays close to $140 billion in benefits to roughly 11 million people, making it one of the government’s largest – but least known – entitlement programs.
A number of Democrats have joined Republicans in demanding more answers from top Social Security Administration officials, as the recent scandals come at a time when the SSDI program is quickly exhausting its reserves. Its trust fund is projected to run out of money in 2016.
Mr. Johnson called for the review during a hearing at which SSA acting commissioner Carolyn Colvin and SSA inspector general Patrick O’Carroll testified. Though Mr. O’Carroll’s division is responsible for overseeing and even investigating the agency’s operations, the IG has stopped short of criticizing any of the agency’s actions with regard to the cases in New York, Puerto Rico, and West Virginia. In fact, in recent months, senior SSA officials have told Congress that disability fraud is very rare, and the IG’s office hasn’t refuted that view.
A top-to-bottom review, as demanded by Mr. Johnson, could create a more adversarial relationship between the IG and top SSA brass than has existed in recent years.
As the disability program has grown, it has faced a number of strains. Millions of Americans applied for benefits during the economic downturn, straining the agency’s resources and forcing many judges to ramp up their workload for processing appeals. This has created a growing tension between a number of judges and senior SSA management, leading to at least one lawsuit. Meanwhile, the agency has taken steps to tighten its control over the administrative law judges.
Ms. Colvin is running the agency until the White House nominates a commissioner, and the White House has not signaled when it might move on the vacancy.


ichbinalj said...

Today, nearly 10,000 Americans sign up for retirement benefits every day. The recession coupled with a slow economic recovery has resulted in a wave of new disability claims, increased backlogs and growing wait times for a frustrated public. Moreover, the Disability Insurance program remains on the Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk” list. With ever increasing demands on Social Security, the time is now for bold and decisive leadership by the next Commissioner of Social Security.

ichbinalj said...

The SSA will be led by a new Commissioner once the President chooses his nominee and the Senate completes its confirmation process. Former Commissioner Michael J. Astrue’s six-year term expired in January 2013. Carolyn Colvin, who served as the Deputy Commissioner, is currently serving as Acting Commissioner until a new Commissioner is confirmed.