Social Security chief will leave in February

Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue Charles Dharapak/AP

The head of the Social Security Administration will leave in February, according to an agency news release.

Michael Astrue, a George W. Bush appointee whose six-year term expired on Jan. 19, is returning to his home in Massachusetts. Astrue has been serving under the holdover provisions of the agency’s authorizing statute since his term officially ended. President Obama has not nominated a successor to Astrue. SSA’s Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin could be named acting head of the agency if Astrue leaves before Obama makes a permanent nomination. The position requires Senate confirmation.

“I consider it a great privilege to have led this remarkable agency for six years,” Astrue said in a Jan. 28 statement.

Other names circulating as possible replacements to Astrue include Nancy Altman, James Roosevelt Jr., and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. Altman is chairman of the nonprofit Pension Rights Center’s board of directors and has spent most of her career studying, teaching and writing about Social Security and pension issues; James Roosevelt Jr. -- the grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the late president who helped create Social Security in the 1930s -- is president and chief executive officer of Tufts Health Plan. Roosevelt also served on Obama’s 2008 transition team as a Social Security adviser and is a former associate commissioner at the agency. Pomeroy was chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security when he served in the House.

Astrue has been under pressure from Congress during his tenure to eliminate the backlog on hearings, despite a steadily dwindling budget and an agencywide hiring freeze, which is still in place. SSA has made progress in decreasing the backlog while keeping pace with an increasing number of new disability and retirement claims. Still, a lack of resources and budget woes continue to plague the agency, which employs more than 60,000 employees nationwide and is headquartered in Baltimore. In October, SSA announced it was scaling back work hours in its field offices, and the agency offered thousands of eligible employees voluntary early retirement in August.

SSA was ranked number six out of 19 large agencies included in the 2012 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey. The annual survey, based on feedback from federal employees, is conducted by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.

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