Acting Social Security Commissioner Fails To Get Senate Confirmation Due To Possible Criminal Investigation

On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of the  Social Security Administration (SSA).  Prior to this designation, she served as a Deputy Commissioner at SSA.  Several high-level members of her inner circle of advisers are at the center of an  investigation concerning  a dysfunctional, $300 million computer system. An Inspector General’s (IG) Report has raised the possibility of a criminal investigation.

The Senate canceled vote on President Obama’s pick for Social Security Commissioner. Obama pick to head Social Security runs into more trouble; Senate cancels confirmation vote.

(AP)(14 Dec. 2014) — President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Social Security Administration has run into more trouble after Senate Democrats canceled a procedural vote on her nomination.

All 11 Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee signed a letter to Colvin on Wednesday, December 10th, noting that new information had come to light about a dysfunctional, $300 million computer system intended to speed the processing of disability claims. An interim inspector general (IG) report has raised questions about whether agency employees misled Congress about the extent of the problem, the lawmakers said.

“We cannot in good faith allow a nomination for any position that requires the advice and consent of the Senate to proceed to a vote as long as the specter of a potential criminal investigation surrounds the nominee and/or those in their inner circle,” read the letter from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the committee, and its other GOP members.

“Agency representatives previously briefed members of the Senate and House regarding the issues raised in the Senate Republican Finance members’ letter,” the spokeswoman, LaVenia LaVelle, said in the statement. “The acting commissioner will respond timely and fully to the members requests, and continue to cooperate with Congress and any related investigation.”

Aides have long noted that the troubled computer system, which was intended to speed the processing of disability claims, was implemented under Colvin’s predecessor, Michael J. Astrue. And they have said that Colvin began a thorough investigation of the matter when she took over the agency last year.Still, the opposition from Republicans in the waning days of the lame-duck session of Congress threw Colvin’s confirmation into question. The current Congress is set to adjourn as soon as next week — and the Senate calendar will become increasingly full between now and then.

While senators have sped through several confirmations since the midterm elections, they have dealt mainly with non-controversial appointments. Colvin’s term, if she is confirmed, would last for six years, well into the next presidential administration.

And when the new Congress gavels in next month, the Senate will be controlled by Republicans, giving concerns raised by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee added weight.Neither of Maryland’s Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin, have responded to request for comment. Cardin is a member of the Finance Committee, which oversees Social Security.

The agency came under scrutiny this year amid revelations that it spent nearly $300 million and six years developing the computer system for disability claims, and it still does not work. The problems were known during Colvin’s confirmation hearing, and while Hatch mentioned them at the time he did not ask Colvin about them.

In their letter, the senators pointed to a news release from a House subcommittee last month regarding an interim IG Report that raised the possibility of a criminal investigation. The letter said the senators have sought to better understand the nature of that investigation but have been unable to do so because the probe is continuing.

“We have received information from whistleblowers that the ongoing investigation has centered around the activities of certain members of your immediate office, including several high-level agency officials, the senators wrote. “Therefore, it is essential to address your role with respect to this inquiry before each of us can make an informed decision on how to vote for your nomination once it reaches the full Senate for consideration.”

Obama nominated Carolyn W. Colvin to a six-year term as commissioner in June, and Colvin’s nomination cleared one procedural hurdle in the Senate Saturday, Dec. 13. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., canceled an upcoming vote, making it likely Colvin won’t get a vote until next year, when Republicans take control of the Senate.

Colvin’s nomination would have taken up valuable floor time as the Senate rushes to finish its year-end business. Senators could speed the process but that would require a bipartisan agreement.

Colvin’s nomination first ran into trouble when a group of Republican senators said they would try to block it while investigators look into a $300 million computer project at the agency.

The project, which doesn’t work, predates Colvin’s tenure — she has been acting commissioner since Feb. 2013. But an inspector general’s investigation is ongoing.

“I don’t know how the Senate can, with good conscience, vote to confirm anyone with this type of ongoing investigation going on around their immediate office,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a floor speech. “It may very well turn out that Ms. Colvin did nothing wrong, but we need to know for sure.”

Colvin defended her integrity and her long career in government in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

“I’ve worked in government my entire life. There’s never been a suggestion, personal or professional, of any wrongdoing,” Colvin said in the interview, which had been scheduled before the controversy erupted.

“I’m certainly not ending my career with that,” Colvin continued. “I came out of retirement to help this organization, not hurt it.”

Six years ago, Social Security embarked on an aggressive plan to replace outdated computer systems overwhelmed by a flood of disability claims. But the project has been racked by delays and mismanagement, according to an assessment commissioned by the agency over the summer.

The new computer system is supposed to help workers process and manage disability claims. But the project is still in the testing phase and the agency can’t say if it will ever be operational or how much it will cost.

Colvin, 72, first worked as a deputy commissioner at Social Security in the 1990s. She left the agency in 2001 to become director of human services for the District of Columbia. She later had a similar job in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Colvin returned to Social Security in 2010 as deputy commissioner.

Associated Press

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren.

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