Former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, introduces former Gov. Martin O'Malley to the Senate Finance Committee. O'Malley has been nominated by President Joe Biden to head the Social Security Administration. (Photo: Josie Jack)
WASHINGTON (Nov. 3, 2023)—Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley told senators Thursday that if he is confirmed as the new commissioner of the Social Security Administration, he would focus on improving service and boosting the morale of the sprawling agency.
"We can and we must do better as a nation, and as an agency. I believe President (Joe) Biden nominated me for this position because I have the leadership skills, the management skills, and the experience — needed at this moment — to lead this organization forward," O'Malley told the Senate Finance Committee.
The commissioner is the highest-ranking official of the Social Security Administration, which has been plagued in recent years by crashing phone services, short-staffed offices and low staff morale.
"Governor O'Malley knows how to work within budgetary lines, master technology using data metrics and so on to point the right resources to the right people to do the job," former Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski said of her fellow Democrat in introducing him to the Senate panel.
O'Malley, who briefly ran for president in 2016, served as governor from 2006 to 2015 and before that was the mayor of Baltimore, received a generally friendly reception from senators.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, asked him what he thought his most relevant experience was that would transfer into running the agency.
"I believe the most relevant piece is my ability to apply principles of performance management in ways that improve customer service and also build up employee morale," O'Malley said. "So it's truly about my experience as a manager, and in particular performance management applied to large organizations."
O'Malley acknowledged the ongoing problems at the Social Security Administration.
"What excites me about this challenge is that it's all about operations," he said. "It's all about improving customer service...After being a mayor and being a governor, the one piece of it that I really truly miss is pulling people together, around the data, the information, seeing if what we're doing is actually working to improve customer service."
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, noted that Social Security is forecast to be insolvent in 10 years and suffers from a lack of public trust.
O'Malley responded that he would focus on restoring trust by shortening holding times on the phone and reducing delays in sending out benefits. He also emphasized it was Congress's duty to act to avoid insolvency and pledged to support bipartisan efforts to do so.
The Social Security Administration has had a long presence in Maryland over its 88-year history. First headquartered at the Candler Building in Baltimore's Inner Harbor in 1936, the agency since 1960 has been based in Woodlawn, Maryland, in Baltimore County. Social Security employs nearly 12,000 people across Maryland, making it the third-largest non-state employer.
Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, a former policy analyst, has been serving as acting Social Security commissioner since 2021, when Biden fired then-Commissioner Andrew Saul, a holdover from the Trump administration.
Normally, the commissioner serves a six-year term and does not change with new presidential administrations. But Saul's past involvement with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that calls for cuts to Social Security, alienated Democrats. Biden removed Saul after his refusal to resign and nominated O'Malley in July to fill the remainder of the term that ends in January 2025.