Former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.), will see his nomination to become Social Security Commissioner move to a Senate floor vote after he was approved out committee Tuesday.

Former Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.), will see his nomination to become Social Security Commissioner move to a Senate floor vote after he was approved out committee Tuesday. Tom Williams / Getty Images

O’Malley’s bid to lead Social Security moves forward

The Senate Finance Committee voted Tuesday to advance O’Malley’s nomination to lead the Social Security Administration to the Senate floor for final consideration.

A Senate panel on Tuesday voted 17-10 on Tuesday to advance the nomination of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to be commissioner of the Social Security Administration, bringing the embattled agency one step closer to having its first permanent leader in more than two years.

In recent years, the Social Security Administration has struggled to meet an array of challenges, from long wait times both on its customer service phone line and at field offices to a sizeable backlog of pending disability determinations. At the heart of many of the agency’s struggles is the fact that its workforce is close to a 25-year staffing low, despite an ever-increasing number of beneficiaries, and the employees who remain suffer from astronomic workloads and low morale.

At a confirmation hearing earlier this month, O’Malley vowed to listen to frontline workers and institute management techniques he pioneered as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland that focus on tracking “leading indicators” that correlate with customer service performance to improve the pace of progress and promoting internal accountability.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., before Tuesday’s vote touted O’Malley’s vision of his role at Social Security as focused on service rather than politics.

“Gov. O’Malley spent the bulk of his career in public service transforming government organizations from bureaucratic morasses into more efficient machines that better service the public,” Wyden said. “I believe Martin O’Malley is the right person for the job at the right time.”

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the committee’s ranking Republican, said that while he was impressed by O’Malley during his confirmation hearing, he would still vote against his confirmation, due to the fact that President Biden ousted Trump-era Commissioner Andrew Saul in 2021. For the last two years, the agency has been led on an acting basis by Kilolo Kijakazi.

“When the Biden administration removed the last Senate-confirmed commissioner prior to the completion of his six-year term, I expressed strong concern that it politicized the Social Security Administration to the detriment of beneficiaries. It is important for commissioners to have sufficient time and certainty to implement real changes. Now that the precedent has been set to shorten the commissioner’s term, future administrations could follow it.”

But ultimately, three GOP lawmakers broke ranks to support O’Malley’s confirmation: Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. Tillis said that he has received an outpouring of support for the former governor from across the political spectrum.

“I got a call from a former governor, a very conservative former governor, back early in the summer raving over Martin O’Malley and how good he was to work with,” he said. “They were contemporaries and served together as governors. And since that first call, I’ve received so many more, speaking to his willingness to hear both sides of an issue and to focus on efficiency . . . Full disclosure: I would have picked someone of a more conservative stripe, but I think we have one of the best candidates that the administration could have put forward, and for those reasons, I’ll support him wholeheartedly.”

O’Malley’s nomination now heads to the Senate floor for final consideration.