Biden Taps a New Social Security Administration Chief
Social Security

Biden Taps a New Social Security Administration Chief

President Biden announced Wednesday that he intends to nominate former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley to head the Social Security Administration.

“Since Day 1 I have fought to strengthen and defend Social Security, which tens of millions of Americans have paid into and depend on to support their livelihoods,” Biden said in a statement. “I know that Governor O’Malley will continue to be a strong partner who works tirelessly to protect Social Security for generations to come.”

O’Malley served as the Democratic governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015 and ran for the Democratic nomination for president as a younger and more liberal challenger to Hillary Clinton in 2016. If confirmed by the Senate, he would take over the agency responsible for distributing more than $1 trillion in annual benefits to the elderly and disabled at a time when it is beset by administrative, political and financial challenges.

Social Security — the largest single program in the federal budget — is on a path to see its combined trust funds depleted in about a decade, at which point benefits would be cut by 20% unless Congress intervenes. While President Joe Biden and Republicans agreed to take changes to Social Security off the table in their recent budget talks, some Republicans have proposed cuts to the program and budget watchdogs have repeatedly called for reforms to extend its solvency. The agency reportedly also faces reduced staffing and low morale among remaining employees, criticism of its customer service and questions about its management.

Biden praised O’Malley for his past efforts at making government “more accessible and transparent” and the White House called him a “pioneer of using performance-management and customer service technologies in government.”

But winning confirmation could itself be challenging for O’Malley and the administration; as Reuters’ Trevor Hunnicutt notes, “political partisanship has made confirming presidential nominees increasingly difficult.” On top of that, the agency’s leadership has been the subject of some political sniping. Social Security has been led by an acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, for the past two years after Biden fired the previous commissioner, Andrew Saul, a Trump holdover who served only two years of a six-year term that was supposed to last until 2025. Saul had clashed with labor unions, advocacy groups and Democrats on Capitol Hill and had refused a Biden administration request to resign.

Nancy Altman, the president of advocacy group Social Security Works, applauded the nomination. “Like President Biden, O’Malley supports expanding Social Security’s modest benefits, not cutting them,” she said in a statement. “At a time when Social Security is under attack from Republicans in Congress, O’Malley is the fighter that the American people need at SSA’s helm.”