Obama Names Acting SSA Chief to Step In Permanently

United States Social Security Administration

President Obama on Friday announced that he would nominate the Social Security Administration’s acting commissioner to take the role permanently.

Carolyn Watts Colvin has been SSA’s deputy commissioner since January 2011, and has been leading the agency in an acting capacity since February 2013, when Michael Astrue’s six-year term expired. She held a number of positions at the agency between 1994 and 2001, including deputy commissioner for operations and deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs. She worked in several state and local positions in between 2001 and her current stint at SSA.

“I am grateful for Carolyn’s past service in various roles at the Social Security Administration, and I am confident that she will serve the American people well in her new role,” Obama said in a statement. “I look forward to working with her in the months and years to come.”

Colvin has been steering an agency that is struggling to help the aging Baby Boomer population, with limited resources. The agency has been engaged in an effort to reshape its workforce, and in January offered another round of early retirements to its workers. That followed several other downsizing efforts: in 2011 the agency reduced its staff by 6 percent, and in 2012, SSA offered early retirement to about 9,000 employees. Since 2010, SSA has closed 64 field offices and 533 temporary mobile offices. The agency came under fire for its approach to those closings during a congressional hearing earlier this week. 

A union representing SSA employees praised Colvin for increasing communication with labor representatives and protecting employees from furloughs due to sequestration. The union expressed some concern, however, about the agency’s field office closures. Ultimately the plan will shutter 1,250 offices nationwide, the group said, noting in-person meetings are important in answering more complex benefits questions.

“Her decisions to close field offices in many cases without prior justification and to stop the distribution of essential documents at field offices will place unnecessary burdens on the public,” said Witold Skwierczynski, president of American Federation of Government Employees Social Security Council 220, in a statement. “Americans rely on their Social Security field office for much more than just filing an application for benefits.”

Skwierczynski said the union looks forward to working with Colvin “to provide the highest quality service to the American public.”

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