GOP lawmakers seek answers on SSA's acting leadership

Five Republicans are asking the Government Accountability Office to clarify legal limits under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of the term and authorities of the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, who was installed after President Joe Biden fired two top leaders in July.

Social Security Administration exterior. Shutterstock ID: 411062851 By Pamela Au

A group of Republican lawmakers want the Government Accountability Office to weigh in on the authorities and term of the acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, who was put in place after President Joe Biden ousted top Trump-appointed SSA leaders in July.

Unions at the agency had been pressuring the president to fire top leaders at the agency for months, alleging that they were a key factor in the agency's embattled relationship with its unions.

Now, five Republicans want answers from Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the head of GAO, on the authorities of Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi, formerly the agency's deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy.

"Now, as SSA must ensure beneficiary service as we face a choppy road of recovery from the pandemic, Social Security employees and beneficiaries have been thrown into an unfortunate state of uncertainty and discontinuity driven by politics," the lawmakers wrote in an Aug. 24 letter. They asked for answers by Sept. 15.

The letter's signees are Sens. Mike Crapo (R- Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee; Tim Scott (R-S.C.), ranking member of the Special Committee on Aging; Todd Young (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy in the Finance Committee; and Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee; and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the subcommittee on Social Security in the Ways and Means Committee.

The group called the firing of former SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul and former Deputy Commissioner David Black was "unlawful." Both had been appointed to fixed terms by former President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

At the time, a White House official provided this statement to FCW.

"Since taking office, Commissioner Saul has undermined and politicized Social Security disability benefits, terminated the agency's telework policy that was utilized by up to 25% of the agency's workforce, not repaired SSA's relationships with relevant Federal employee unions including in the context of COVID-19 workplace safety planning, reduced due process protections for benefits appeals hearings, and taken other actions that run contrary to the mission of the agency and the President's policy agenda," the official said.

The ousters followed a June Supreme Court ruling finding that job protections given to the director of the Fair Housing Finance Agency, which has a similar structure to SSA, were unconstitutional.

Saul's six-year term was set to run through 2025. The position's terms allow the commissioner to be fired by the president after a finding of "neglect of duty or malfeasance in office." Black's six-year position was also Senate-confirmed, but its terms allow the president to remove the person in the position without an adverse finding.

"To date, neither the President nor the White House has provided the public with any findings of neglect of duty or malfeasance in office with respect to Commissioner Saul," they wrote.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act governs who can fill vacant Senate-confirmed position and for how long. GAO has the responsibility of notifying the executive branch of potential violations of the law. The Republican lawmakers are asking Dodaro to weigh in on whether Kijakazi's appointment complies with the law and determine when her appointment might extend past the 210-day period allowed under the law. The lawmakers also want to know who would be acting commissioner if the 210 day mark passes with no nominee for a new SSA commissioner.