On September 18, 2014 the Senate Finance Committee voted 22-2 to approve Carolyn Colvin to be the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. The vote followed a hearing by the Committee held on July 31, 2014 to consider the Colvin’s nomination for SSA’s top position. President Barack Obama announced on June 20, 2014, that he was nominating Carolyn Colvin as Commissioner of Social Security. Colvin has been the Acting Commissioner since February 2013 since the former Commissioner, Michael Astrue, departed the role. Colvin had been Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) since January 0f 2011. Her appointment is now subject to a vote by the full Senate, which will not take place until after the mid-term elections in November, as most Senators are currently in their home states campaigning. The outcome of the election could have a substantial impact on her approval, where a majority of senators will need to agree to the appointment.
If appointed as the Commissioner, Colvin will have the same supervision and direction over the agency that she did as the Acting Commissioner, however, many feel that she will have more power to command resources and support from Congress. The appointment as Commissioner provides a structured term (6 years) and allows an agency head to initiate large-scale or agency wide changes that a Commissioner with Acting status may be less apt to make given the uncertainty of their future in the role. Nomination by the President and confirmation by the Senate also significantly bolsters the credibility of the role. Colvin’s nomination comes during a critical period for the agency, as the Disability Trust Fund is projected for insolvency by 2017 if changes aren’t made, and budget cuts have led to staff attrition and the closing of SSA offices. Furthermore, the backlog of Social Security Disability claims that was reduced under Astrue has begun to increase again to an average wait time of over 400 days to receive a hearing after a denied claim.