Martin O'Malley speaks at the National Press Club in 2016.

Martin O'Malley speaks at the National Press Club in 2016. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Biden taps former Maryland governor for Social Security commissioner

Martin O’Malley served two terms as governor before a failed presidential campaign in 2016.

President Biden on Wednesday announced that he plans to nominate former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to serve as commissioner of the Social Security Administration, potentially ending two years of acting leadership at an agency that is embattled by a funding and staffing crisis.

The announcement comes fully two years after Biden ousted then-Commissioner Andrew Saul, a holdover from the Trump administration, and named Kilolo Kijakazi acting commissioner of the agency.

O’Malley, a former prosecutor, was mayor of Baltimore before becoming a two-term governor of the state that hosts the Social Security Administration’s headquarters. He pioneered the expansion of New York City’s CompStat law enforcement statistical modeling program to a broader array of government services through the CitiStat program during his tenure as mayor and the StateStat program when he was governor. 

“Governor O’Malley is a lifelong public servant who has spent his career making government more accessible and transparent, while keeping the American people at the heart of his work,” Biden said in a statement. “As mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, he adopted data and performance-driven technologies to tackle complex challenges facing the communities he served—and I saw the results first hand when we worked together during my time as vice president. As governor, he made government work more effectively across his administration and enhanced the way millions of people accessed critical services.”

If confirmed, O’Malley would take charge of an agency riddled with challenges. Staffing levels are at a 25-year low, despite an ever-increasing number of beneficiaries, and the American Federation of Government Employees has warned that without a massive recruitment and retention spree, Social Security could soon experience a mass exodus of overworked and underpaid employees. The agency placed last in the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report.

Though the agency received an additional $700 million in funding to staff up during the current fiscal year, that could soon be wiped out if House Republicans have their way. President Biden has proposed a $1.4 billion increase in fiscal 2024, but appropriations legislation in the House would cut the agency’s budget by $183 million from current funding levels.

“AFGE has calculated SSA would need to be funded at a level of $17.39 billion in fiscal 2024 to eliminate all backlogs and restore the agency as one of the best places to work in the federal government, while the acting commissioner had requested $15.5 billion,” wrote AFGE Legislative Director Julie Tippens in a letter to congressional appropriators last week. “The $13.8 billion for SSA in the House subcommittee bill falls far short of what SSA needs to help the public access the benefits they have earned. SSA needs emergency funding to keep up with public demand, not a nearly $200 million cut.”

AFGE National President Everett Kelley on Wednesday touted O’Malley’s experience running large governmental organizations in support of his nomination.

“Governor O’Malley is a strong advocate for working people and labor rights, and he has the skills and experience necessary to tackle the various challenges facing SSA, like the recruitment and retention of its dedicated workforce,” Kelley said. “We look forward to working with Governor O’Malley during the confirmation process on his ideas to strengthen the agency and its work on behalf of the 67 million Americans who receive Social Security benefits every month.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whose committee will oversee O’Malley’s nomination, said he will work to confirm the former governor “as soon as possible.”

“Social Security needs a confirmed commissioner in order to ensure Americans are receiving the best service possible for their earned Social Security benefits,” he said. “Governor O’Malley is a proven leader with experience running a large organization that millions of families count on.”