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An Important Moment for Social Security

By Steve Kofahl, president of AFGE Local 3937 and a memebr of PSARA’s Executive Board 

The 6-year term of Bush-appointed Social Security Administration(SSA) Commissioner Michael Astrue finally ended on January 19. He tendered his resignation to the White House on February 8, and Carolyn Colvin was installed 5 days later as Acting Commissioner.

As Principle Deputy Commissioner, Ms. Colvin was next in the line of succession. The President has not yet nominated her, or anyone else, to serve a new 6-year term as Commissioner of Social Security. The Commissioner, Principle Deputy Commissioner, and SSA Inspector General are all subject to Senate confirmation.

It took the Senate two years to confirm Ms. Colvin after Mr. Obama nominated her as Principle Deputy, so it’s anybody’s guess how long it will take for a new Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner to be nominated and confirmed. In the absence of confirmed nominees, the President can name individuals to serve as Acting Commissioner and Principle Deputy.

At least 6 names have been mentioned, but Ms. Colvin and Social Security Works Co- Chair Nancy Altman appear to be the front-runners. Ms. Altman has the support of the AFL-CIO, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, and other groups and coalitions that advocate on behalf of the clients served by SSA.

Nancy Altman was the keynote speaker at the Everett Social Security Works Washington Forum, and also at this year’s gathering of American Federation of Government Employee(AFGE) Social Security Administration activists from throughout the country. We were preparing for Capitol Hill visits to inform lawmakers about how staffing cuts and bad management decisions are dismantling service.

Ms. Altman expressed her strong support for community-based service, and also listened and learned from Social Security Administration employees. There is no doubt that she would make a wonderful Commissioner. I asked her how AFGE could form strong coalitions with community organizations to protect and improve Social Security, and she said that we should follow the model created by Social Security Works Washington.

The great unknown is whether Ms. Colvin would restore service; or would continue down the Astrue path of office closings, reduced public hours, and Internet self-disservice. She has had a good working relationship with AFGE in the past, but that is not enough in itself.

PSARA, our labor and community allies and activists who work for the Social Security Administration are determined to see the Agency’s service and management problems fixed. Social Security Administration employees will only find satisfaction in our work when the Social Security Administration can provide high-quality, timely, equitable service to workers and their families, and deliver it through high quality personal face-to-face service when such service is desired.

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