Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley expressed his readiness to step away from politics and take charge of a crucial modernization effort at the Social Security Administration.
He emphasized the agency’s subpar level of customer service and pledged to address the issue promptly. Nominated by President Biden to become the next administrator, O’Malley positioned himself as a technocratic leader focused on improving call response times, expediting appeals, and ensuring timely and accurate benefit payments.
Drawing from his experience as a mayor, he stressed the nonpartisan nature of public service. O’Malley highlighted the extensive wait times for seniors inquiring about their benefits, the lengthy processing period for disability applications, and the protracted appeals process for rejected applications.
He pointed out that the agency currently serves 50 percent more customers and beneficiaries with the same staffing levels as two decades ago. President Biden dismissed the previous commissioner, Andrew Saul, in 2021 due to disagreements over labor union policies and telework restrictions.
Democrats also criticized Saul for impeding beneficiaries’ access to appeals hearings. During the confirmation hearing, senators from both parties sought assurances that O’Malley would prioritize service over politics. O’Malley, who previously served as a city councilor, mayor of Baltimore, and governor of Maryland, expressed his eagerness to tackle the operational challenges and enhance customer service at the Social Security Administration.
Former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, testified in support of O’Malley, praising his ability to navigate a complex state government. Democrats and Republicans appeared to expect O’Malley’s confirmation and presented him with various issues to address. Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat leading the Finance Committee, shared a constituent’s story about incorrect rental assistance notifications and subsequent repayment demands.
Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, raised concerns about individuals being asked to repay benefits due to COVID-19 assistance. O’Malley condemned such situations as outrageous. He acknowledged that while immediate customer service improvements were necessary, the agency faced long-term solvency challenges.
O’Malley committed to providing Congress with accurate data to guide financial reforms, acknowledging the impending depletion of the trust fund in approximately ten years. At that point, Social Security would only be able to pay out what it collects in taxes, resulting in a 23 percent reduction in benefit checks.