The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Andrew Saul to be commissioner of the Social Security Administration in October 2018.

The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Andrew Saul to be commissioner of the Social Security Administration in October 2018. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Key Senator Lends Support to Effort to Oust Social Security Leadership

The chairman of a subcommittee overseeing the Social Security Administration has joined calls from labor and advocacy groups demanding that President Biden replace the agency’s top political appointees.

The chairman of a key Senate subcommittee on Friday called for the “immediate replacement” of two top political appointees at the Social Security Administration, granting renewed momentum to a months-long effort by advocacy groups and unions at the agency to oust the Trump administration holdovers.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was named the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy, and in his first act, he called for SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black's removal, citing their efforts to make it “more difficult” for older and disabled people to access Social Security, reduce due process protections for those applying for disability benefits, as well as their attacks on agency employees and their unions.

“Saul and Black are incapable of carrying out Democrats’ vision of protecting and expanding Social Security,” Brown said in a statement. “As agents of the Trump Social Security agenda, they cut the benefits that hardworking Americans have earned, attacked the Social Security Administration’s employees, denied beneficiaries due process, and needlessly increased disability reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one has been safe from their path of destruction.”

In most instances, political appointees resign at the end of a presidential administration. But in the case of the Social Security Administration, its leadership has defined terms that continue regardless of who is in the White House. Saul and Black both have five years remaining on their terms, and in the case of Saul, the law states that he can only be removed for cause.

Despite those protections, federal employee unions and Social Security advocates have been urging President Biden to fire them anyway since shortly after his election. They argued that Saul and Black have sought to undermine the agency’s mission, and that their relationship with the agency’s workforce is irreparably frayed. A survey of administrative law judges at the agency conducted by their union, the Association of Administrative Law Judges, found that 88% of ALJs had “no confidence” in the appointees’ ability to lead the agency.

On Jan. 20, Saul’s future at the agency appeared to be in doubt, as he was included on a list of temporary “acting” agency officials, and two of his key aides were replaced. But in the month that followed, Saul and Black have remained in their positions.

Despite inaction at the Social Security Administration, the Biden administration has not hesitated to remove Trump appointees who carried over due to set terms at other agencies. The president fired National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb after Robb refused to resign on Inauguration Day, and he removed all 10 members of the Federal Service Impasses Panel earlier this month.

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