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Social Security Leadership Gets Thumbs-Down From Staff

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Top Social Security Administration officials were given an overwhelming “no-confidence” vote by members of the American Federation of Government Employees’ Council 220, which represents 26,000 SSA employees, according to a report in The Federal Times Wednesday.

In a survey, Council members said unanimously that they had no confidence in SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black.

In a further show of displeasure, 88% of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, representing some 1,100 ALJs who are responsible for making disability claim decisions at a hearing level, reported no confidence in Saul.

They also gave Theresa Gruber, deputy commissioner for the Social Security’s Office of Hearings Operations, and Chief ALJ Patrick Nagle a roughly 84% no-confidence vote.

The AFGE, which has 313,000 dues-paying federal employee members, stated in a release that the COVID-19 pandemic, and its mismanagement by the Trump administration, was a key reason for the group’s no-confidence vote.

“Under the Trump administration, the SSA leadership has gone above and beyond to castigate and undermine public servants, leaving employees demoralized and out of the loop,” Ralph de Juliis, AFGE Council 220 president, said in the statement.

He added that “as we transition to a new administration, it is essential that President-elect Biden not only removes SSA leadership, but clears the agency of all who were infected by Saul’s anti-employee bias.”

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The AALJ’s disapproval stemmed from actions taken by SSA leadership that had “appeals judges” review decisions made by ALJs to reduce a backlog, which the AALJ said never existed.

According to Melissa McIntosh, AALI president, “Right now, these ‘appeals judges’ only review cases after an ALJ. What the [SSA] leaders are doing is creating a system whereby their employees would be holding initial hearings and then reviewing their own decisions, raising due process concerns. And, unlike ALJs who are required by statute to have decisional independence, these [appeals judges] receive annual bonuses.”

Saul previously headed up the Federal Retirement Thrift investment Board, which manages the Thrift Retirement Plan, the defined contribution plan for federal employees. He was nominated to the SSA by President Donald Trump and approved by the Senate by a 77-16 vote in June 2019 for a term to expire Jan. 19, 2025.

Black was sworn in to the SSA in October 2019 to serve a term also expiring Jan. 19, 2025. He previously had been general counsel of the SSA for 10 years.

Gruber has been deputy commissioner for disability adjudication and review since 2015.

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