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Where's the SSA commissioner nominee?

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) is facing chronic delays in processing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims, embarrassing news stories about SSDI recipients who are working off-the-books — and the lack of a confirmed commissioner.

Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, asked witnesses about the gap at the top of the SSA today during a House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee hearing on the challenges facing the next commissioner of the SSA.

Carolyn Colvin, the deputy SSA commissioner, has been serving as the acting SSA commissioner since Michael Astrue’s six-year term expired in January.

“We really need a commissioner,” Renacci said. “It would probably be really important that the administration nominate a commissioner so that we can move forward.”

Daniel Bertoni, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) director who testified at the hearing, agreed that having an acting commissioner, rather than a confirmed commissioner, has an effect on an agency’s ability to overhaul its operations.

When an acting chief is in charge, “you don’t see big, bold moves,” Bertoni said. “The acting status is not helpful to [the] SSA.”

The SSA needs a confirmed director who can articulate a division for updating the SSA’s inefficient computer systems and ways of doing business and win support in Congress for that vision, Bertoni said.

Many commercial disability insurers have a major financial stake in improving the speed of the SSDI claim determination process, because they subtract part or all of any SSDI benefits a successful claimant gets from the benefits they themselves pay.

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