WSJ Opinion: Biden Politicizes the Social Security Administration

The name of the Social Security Administration’s commissioner isn’t one most Americans would recognize. This is largely by design. Congress, presidents from both parties, and previous commissioners have made it a point to ensure the commissioner’s role remains nonpartisan. That is why President Biden’s decision to fire me is so unsettling. I was only two years into my six-year term as SSA commissioner. By targeting me, the administration has politicized the SSA.

The Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994 brought the SSA out from under the Department of Health and Human Services and made it an independent agency. The law established that an SSA commissioner “may be removed from office only pursuant to a finding by the president of neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.” The email asking for my resignation gave no reason for termination. Throughout my career, I have worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations to serve the American people. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama trusted me to serve as chairman of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. SSA commissioners, given their term length, have served different administrations in the past. Following his 2007 appointment by Mr. Bush, Commissioner Michael Astrue served through Mr. Obama’s first term and into his second. Mr. Biden should remember this well since he was vice president at the time. The purpose of the fixed, six-year tenure for SSA commissioners is to provide stability for the agency and to shield it from partisan meddling. For a sense of the independent and bipartisan nature of SSA commissioners, look no further than my 77-16 confirmation vote in the Senate. As commissioner, I made it a priority to keep the agency nonpolitical, and most of my executive staff were career civil servants. But with one action, Mr. Biden created confusion and uncertainty about the political neutrality of SSA commissioners. I led the agency with a singular focus on those it served. We invested in modernizing the SSA website, information-technology infrastructure, business processes and customer-service channels. We focused on hiring frontline staff for both in-person and over-the-phone constituent services, which reduced wait times and the backlog of SSA cases. And when the pandemic struck, we took swift action to protect our workforce and the public. Reps. John Larson (D., Conn.), Danny Davis (D., Ill.) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D., N.J.) wanted me fired and alleged that I made it harder for disabled Americans to receive benefits by increasing the frequency of Continuing Disability Reviews. In fact I ensured the proposed changes were withdrawn before the end of the Trump administration despite significant pressure from the administration to enact them.

Rep. Richard Neal (D., Mass.) and Messrs. Larson, Davis and Pascrell have also blamed me for the delay of the Economic Impact Payments. Absent my persistence, Supplemental Security Income recipients wouldn’t have received any automatic stimulus checks. I was able to make a deal with the Internal Revenue Service to help identify Social Security recipients without updated tax information who were eligible for Economic Impact Payments. Any insinuation that my team delayed stimulus payments is a defamatory attack on the outstanding individuals who worked to deliver much needed relief to the most vulnerable Americans.

The biggest culprits behind these attacks are the American Federation of Government Employees and the Association of Administrative Law Judges, which stand to gain leverage and reopen contract negotiations with government agencies under the union-friendly Biden administration. After pandemic-related restrictions were lifted across the country, I asked SSA workers to return to their offices to serve the American people better. To paint this as antiworker serves labor leadership’s interests, not the interests of those who rely on the Social Security Administration.

I may be out of a job, but Americans stand to lose something more valuable. Mr. Biden campaigned on a promise to restore normalcy to government. The unlawful ousting of a Social Security Administration commissioner for political reasons is a clear failure to honor that promise.