A Conversation with Michael J. Astrue Commissioner, U.S. Social Security Administration


A Conversation with Michael J. Astrue Commissioner, U.S. Social Security Administration

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 - 13:01
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For over 75 years, the U.S. Social Security Administration, or SSA, has touched the lives of virtually every American, whether it is after the loss of a loved one, at the onset of a disability, or during the transition from work to retirement.

On Managing the Mission of the U.S. Social Security Administration
SSA was founded in 1935; it’s one of the largest federal agencies. We have about 65,000 federal employees and about 16,000 state employees. SSA has about 1,500 physical facilities composed of both field and hearing offices. Most of the people who work for the agency are on the front line, trying to help people in field offices. In FY 2011, we paid over 60 million people a total of about $770 billion in Social Security benefits and SSI payments. Our responsibilities are very operational. Since SSA became an independent agency issues on solvency are more properly handled by the secretary of the treasury.

The SSA commissioner has a six-year term. It’s considered a soft term rather than a hard term—meaning that when my term is over January 19th, 2013, I don’t have to leave immediately; I’m allowed to stay until a successor is confirmed. I think that reflects Congress’s intent to try to maintain continuity.

On Crafting a Realistic Strategic Vision in an Era of Fiscal Austerity
One of the areas where I’ve been able to make a significant contribution was to change the legislative strategy [on agency funding]. SSA is a wonderful place; we have some of the most motivated and can-do staff available. For a long time, we went up to Congress with that can-do attitude asking for what we thought we needed. The response would be, well, that’s nice, but can you do it with minus 5%? Our answer
was, well, it’d be harder, but we’re a can-do agency, we’ll do it! On a certain level we ended up hurting the agency and the people we serve.

Read more of this interview.

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