Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Executive Schedule: Executive Level I - Presidential Appointment with Senate Confirmation
- Administer Social Security retirement, disability and survivors programs
- Manage the Social Security Administration, an independent agency with 62,000 employees
- Oversee monthly distribution of benefits to more than 49 million Americans
- Advise the administration on social security policy
- Communicate social security policy and program offerings to the public
Key Competencies and Preferred Qualifications:
- Extensive management experience
- Strong public affairs skills
- Some professional training in law or insurance
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent agency of the US federal government. The SSA oversees the administration of the nation’s Social Security program, the largest social welfare program in the US. SSA’s mission is to deliver Social Security Services that meet the changing needs of the public. With a budget of $12.5 billion and a staff of over 68,000 employees, SSA manages the Old-age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program and the Supplemental Security Income Program (support aged, blind, or disabled adults and children). SSA distributes over $700 billion benefits to about 60 million Americans. The SSA Commissioner reports directly to the President, and is appointed for a six-year term.
Current SSA Commissioner, Michael J. Astrue, stated at the time of his confirmation, “My goal is to be a good steward of the Social Security program for both current and future beneficiaries. For current beneficiaries, this means setting high standards for management, performance and service—and committing to meeting those standards. For future beneficiaries, this means engaging with the executive branch, with Members of Congress, and with outside groups and experts, to provide unbiased data about all the options for safeguarding the financial stability of the program.”
In his FY 2012 budget request testimony, Mr. Astrue identified the agency’s three major focus areas in FY 12: including continuing to reduce the disability backlogs, improving service to the public, and saving taxpayer dollars. Mr. Astrue believes that extensive management experience and political skills are essential for this position. Mr. Astrue pledged to steer clear of the privatization debate. “I see the value in what I think is the consensus between the executive branch and the legislative branch in having a very politically neutral Commissioner that stays out of the highly partisan issues and is an honest broker and supplier of information about the very difficult choices that the Congress has to make.”
Responding to the Challenge
Mr. Astrue has focused on reducing disability claims backlog and improving the timeliness and quality of the disability process. Astrue stated that eliminating hearing backlogs is one of SSA’s top priorities. SSA has implemented a comprehensive plan to eliminate hearing backlog through a number of initiatives, including hiring additional administrative law judges and staff, eliminating oldest cases, introducing new technology, and improving the business process. Under Mr. Astrue’s direction, SSA established National Hearing Centers to use new technologies to address the disability backlog at the hearing level. SSA has made significant progress in reducing disability backlogs. However, as noted in the SSA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report SSA’s Major Management and Performance Challenges, budgetary challenges will affect SSA’s ability to achieve its goal of eliminating hearing backlogs by FY 2013. SSA is also committed to reducing the number of pending initial claims to the pre-recession level by 2014. In 2010, SSA developed a Strategy to Address Increasing Initial Disability Claim Receipts to address this issue, and this Strategy has produced meaningful results. Commissioner Astrue has led the efforts to develop fast-tracking processes to expedite disability cases decisions. According to the SSA Office of the Inspector General’s review in 2011, the agency is on track to achieve its goal of returning the initial claims pending to its pre-recession level by 2014.
In order to provide better and more efficient public service, SSA has made significant investments in modernizing its core technology system, protecting sensitive information, advancing its capability to provide additional online services, implementing a new telecommunication infrastructure, and improving field office services.
Improper payment has become a growing concern for SSA. For FY 2010, SSA reported an estimated $9 billion in improper payment. During Mr. Astrue’s tenure, SSA has developed a variety of initiatives to reduce improper payments, conducted program integrity reviews, and worked with the OIG to conduct Cooperative Disability Investigations. The agency invested $758 million in its program integrity efforts in FY 2010 and planned to increase the investment in this area in FY 2011.