Scope of the Position:

The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) is the leader of one of the nation's largest entitlement programs and oversees an annual budget of $12.7 billion. The Commissioner strives to ensure the continued operation and integrity of the Social Security fund for future generations. There are approximately 60,000 personnel who work for the Administration. 

Illustrative Management Challenges:

The Social Security Administration has multiple areas that require improvement in the coming years. The Office of the Inspector General for the SSA released an audit report in February 2016 concerning the ability of the Administration to handle issues that fall within the purview of the Social Security Protection Act of 2004 (SSPA). In the report, the IG cited cases where the "SSA did not (1) reissue [SSA] benefits misused by organizational and volume individual payees, as required; (2) obtain restitution from payees that misused benefits; (3) document its decision to allow payees that misused benefits to continue serving as payees, as required by its policies; or (4) report all payee misuse cases to the Office of the Inspector General."1 The SSA has also struggled to implement the changes that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has ordered with the introduction of amendments to the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002 (IPIA). A recently released audit report found that "the Agency did not meet the OMB-established reduction targets for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) overpayments."2

There are also issues in the area of information security that have yet to be addressed. In an audit report filed, the SSA has still not addressed areas of concern with its information security overhauls that were required by the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA). The audit identified a number of deficiencies related to continuous monitoring management; configuration management; identity and access management; incident response and reporting; risk management; security training; contingency planning; and contractor systems.3 Though the SSA has continued working to address issues in these areas, it still is not where it needs to be to protect the information of beneficiaries. SSA must strengthen its information security risk management framework and enhance information technology (IT) oversight and governance to address these weaknesses. It will be part of the Commissioner's responsibility to direct the Agency's improvement efforts in these major areas.


      1Agency Actions Concerning Misuse of Benefits by Organizational and Volume Individual Representative Payees;; February 25, 2016.
      2The Social Security Administration's Compliance with the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act of 2012 in the Fiscal Year 2015 
       Agency Financial Report;; May 2016.
      3The Social Security Administration's Compliance with the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 for Fiscal year 2015;; November

SSA Commissioners:

Experience in the services and welfare realm seems to be a prerequisite for SSA Commissioners, as nearly every former Commissioner has held a position with the SSA or with their state or local human services department. 

Current Incumbent:

Carolyn W. Colvin (Acting) (2013-present): Colvin held several positions with SSA prior to her current appointment. She previously has served in state and city governments, including positions as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources, Director of the District of Columbia Department of Human Services, and Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. 

Previous Commissioners:

Michael J. Astrue (2007-2013): Astrue's previous positions have included serving as a private practice lawyer for the Baltimore firm Ropes & Gray, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services Legislation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Counselor to the Commissioner of Social Security, Associate Counsel to President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, and General Counsel of HHS. Astrue received his JD from Harvard Law School.

Linda S. McMahon (Acting) (2007): McMahon previously had served as the Deputy Commissioner for Operations; Regional Commissioner of San Francisco; Principal Social Security Administration Official for Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Region; Director of the California Department of Social Services in Sacramento; Associate Commissioner for Family Assistance with the SSA in Washington, D.C.; and a staff member in the legislative branch.

Jo Anne B. Barnhart (2001-2007): Barnhart is currently serving as an adjunct lecturer at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Barnhart's previous positions include Assistant Secretary for Children and Families with HHS and Minority Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Government Affairs Committee. She also owned and managed her own policy consulting company.

Larry G. Massanari (Acting) (2001): Massanari's past positions have included Chairman of the Board of Mathematica, SSA Regional Commissioner for the Mid-Atlantic States for developing disability program policy, and the Associate Commissioner for SSA policy.

William Halter (Acting) (2001): Halter is currently the owner of Scenic Hill Group. Halter's previous positions include Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas, Senior Advisor at OMB, Chief Economist of the Senate Finance Committee, and an Associate at McKinsey & Company.

Kenneth S. Apfel (1997-2001): Apfel currently serves as a faculty member of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. Apfel's previous positions consisted of serving as a Senior Fellow at the Results for Development Institute in Washington, D.C.; the Sid Richardson Chair in Public Affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin; Assistant Director for Human Resource Programs at OMB; the Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget at HHS; and as an expert in the general areas of social and budgetary policy.

John J. Callahan (Acting) (1997): Callahan is currently serving as the Executive in Residence at the School of Health and Human Services at the University of Baltimore's School of Public and International Affairs. Callahan previously served as Assistant Secretary of Management and Budget for HHS as part of his 25 years of public service.

Shirley S. Chater (1993-1997): Chater's previous positions have consisted of serving as a visiting professor with the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco; President of Texas Woman's University; and various other positions with academic governing bodies.

Louis D. Enoff (Acting) (1992-1993): Enoff is currently serving as the Principal of his own company, Enoff Associates Ltd., and as an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Enoff's previous positions included many different executive and technical roles for the Social Security Administration during his 30 years there.

Additional Resources: