The Senate confirmed former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as Social Security commissioner, putting in place the first Senate-approved head of the agency in more than two years.
Senators on Monday voted 50-11 in a sparsely attended session to confirm President Joe Biden’s pick, following the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan 17-10 vote last month to send O’Malley’s nomination to the floor.
During the committee vote last month, three Republicans crossed over to vote for O’Malley. One of them, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, said he believed O’Malley would be effective in advising lawmakers as they face Social Security’s financial shortfall that will result in the program not being able to pay full benefits in about a decade.
The other 10 Republicans, including ranking member Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, voted against the one-time Democratic presidential contender.
O’Malley has stressed his plan to improve during his six-year term deteriorating service at the agency, which some say is the result of budget cuts and reductions in staff.
During a meeting last month, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said O’Malley will have to address long wait lines, red tape, outdated technology and a struggling workforce at the agency.
In a September report, Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and Disability Policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, blamed the problems on what she said is a 17 percent decrease in the customer service budget since 2011 after adjusting for inflation.
“Being forced to serve millions more people with fewer staff and resources has caused tremendous strain at SSA, and beneficiaries are suffering the consequences,” she wrote.
Some are skeptical the budget is the problem.
In a post on the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute website, senior fellow Mark J. Warshawsky said the “main work load” of the agency, adjudicating and administering disability insurance claims and benefits, has eased over the past decade.
“Clearly something deeper is wrong at SSA than the budget, and we need leaders there who are honest about cleaning up the mess quickly,” Warshawsky wrote.
The agency has not had a confirmed head since more than two years ago, when Biden fired the Donald Trump-appointed commissioner Andrew Saul. O’Malley is the first Democratic-nominated commissioner since the Bill Clinton administration.
O’Malley served as Baltimore mayor before he was elected to two terms as governor, ending in 2015. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.