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Social Security Head's Decisions Illegal Since November 17, Says Government Accountability Office

by Countable | Updated on 3.8.18

What’s the story?

Way back in mid-November Countable let users know that the administration had reached an important deadline according to the Vacancies Reform Act. 300 days after the inauguration, according to federal law, all political appointments must be filled. "Acting" replacements have no legal authority to make long term strategic decisions past that point.

According to CNN’s tracking, as of December 31, 2017 only 502 of the approximately 1,200 positions subject to Senate confirmation had been nominated. Some positions are still being filled by staff whose terms have not expired, so they fall within the law.

On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent a letter to the president reminding him of the law, and noting that Social Security Acting Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill in particular has been in violation of the law.

Why does it matter? Social Security pays benefits to more than 60 million people a year, totaling nearly 1 trillion dollars. It is the largest single program in the federal budget, responsible for a quarter of all federal spending. And if Ms. Berryhill were to issue a rule, or otherwise make a lasting decision, it could be subject to legal challenge for exceeding her authority.

However, "acting" heads can, and have, filled positions in the absence of nominations for long periods of time. In fact, there hasn’t been a Senate-confirmed Commissioner running the Social Security Administration for five years.

Announcing a Wednesday hearing of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) made a strong statement about the need for properly empowered leadership:

"The Social Security Administration has been without a Senate-confirmed Commissioner for more than five years and has instead been operating with an Acting Commissioner. While Acting Commissioner Berryhill has done an admirable job, at the end of the day, the acting head of an agency is just that: acting. They do not have the authority to provide the long-term strategic vision that is critical for success. Important decisions are being put off and service has deteriorated because this agency is lacking a leader."

What do you think?

Are you concerned about delays in nominations by the administration? Are there particular positions not yet nominated that should be prioritized to move forward in your opinion?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

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(80)
  • L.w.
    03/08/2018
    ···

    I'm conflicted about this. On the one hand, it is indeed essential to fill the posts. On the other hand, his appointments are so appalling and destructive - not to mention embarrassingly unqualified - that perhaps it's safer not to push for them. Might be safer just to lay low, do the jobs w/the ppl in place now, and wait til Trump blows over.

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  • NoHedges
    03/09/2018
    ···

    I would rather keep going with the woman that was there during the Obama administration. Trump will just fill it with someone bent on furthering his vision for societal destruction.

    Like (99)
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  • Robert
    03/08/2018
    ···

    Yes, I’m finding everything this administration does concerning. Please give us democracy again!

    Like (60)
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  • Louis
    03/09/2018
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    The worry is that Mr Trump always appoints as the head of an agency the person that most hated that agency and will do their best to dismantle it. EPA, Public Schools etc. . It is well known Ryan dreams of getting rid of SS.

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  • Patrick
    03/09/2018
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    Let’s be clear about this. Leader McConnell refused to allow a Senate vote on former Acting Commissioner Colvin, so she served for several years without confirmation then resigned with the end of President Obama’s second term. Acting Commissioner Berryhill has been there since last January without any action from President Trump. Republicans are squarely to blame for the lack of confirmed leadership at SSA.

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  • Rachel
    03/09/2018
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    The prior acting commissioner retired when Obama left. The GOP lead senate failed to call a vote/ hold hearings to get her confirmed. They would schedule them and then cancel them. Thus why she remain “acting.” When the current administration took over Barryhill was appointed as acting until some new could be appointed. Of course this administration has failed to do that. It amazes me how in even this folks are trying to blame Obama.

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  • Countryfirst
    03/08/2018
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    IMPEACH THE DICTATOR AND MORON IN CHARGE BEFORE WE LOSE THIS COUNTRY!!!!!

    Like (34)
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  • Jennifer
    03/08/2018
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    So this person has been only in the position of acting commissioner for the past 5 years, and Obama gets off the hook and Trump gets the blame.., how exactly does that work? Oh wait, in the liberal world, EVERYTHING is Trump’s fault.

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  • Chickie
    03/09/2018
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    After more than a year in office, #45 has over 250 key appointments open. That it is illegal does not bother him one iota. Quoted in a a Fox News interview in November 2017, #45 commented about the open jobs, “Let me tell you - the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that’s what policy is going to be. You’ve seen that and you’ve seen it strongly”. What we’ve seen from #45 is someone who day by day, Tweet by Tweet, is ripping our beloved country in half with derisive division. #45 is destroying our majestic lands and wildlife for the sake of the top 1%. Call him to task representatives. Let him know that he cannot continue to disrespect the position and ALL the people he is supposed to represent.

    Like (21)
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  • Joanne
    03/09/2018
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    I am horrified to think about who trump would put in charge of Social Security. Please let this ride until we vote this administration out.

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  • Susan
    03/09/2018
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    The position wasn’t filled due to Republicans blocking every new appointment. If Republicans want to make a change now, it probably is because they want to take away our Social Security which we paid for. It is our money. I say... no changes.

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  • NotAmused
    03/09/2018
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    I shudder to imagine what sort of person Trump would put in charge of Social Security. It galls me how he gets away with ignoring laws, but it might be better not to rock this boat.

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  • AnonymousPatron
    03/09/2018
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    LOL you guys are all bothered by a qualified acting commissioner because the Republicans shut down the government and would not appoint any Obama appointees. How soon you forget. No we’re chatting and complaining about 1200 employees and that is because #45 has no clue who to select and his vow to disassemble our Democracy bit by bit.

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  • Bernie
    03/08/2018
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    Another Obama fumble blamed on Trump. See part where it says: “ acting commissioner for the last FIVE years”. The Senate has been sandbagging all of Trumps appointments across the bureaucracy. Back door support for the Deep State. Sounds like an excellent time to cut the bureaucracy permanently.

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  • Nancy
    03/08/2018
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    I know there are cuts to SS written into FY2019 budget. It would advantage we the people to keep the status quo and Ms. Berryhill. Other commentators worry about what anti Social Security nut would be put in charge, with good reason. Let’s keep this on the down low.

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  • David
    03/08/2018
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    Why would this administration bother nominating people for every position when the Democrats in Congress have ensured the nominations are approved one at a time and take the maximum allowable time for confirmation. At this rate the last nomination would be approved eleven years into Trumps administration and since it will only last eight why bother.

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  • Nicole
    03/09/2018
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    I agree with L.w. Those positions need to be filled, but I don’t trust #45 to do it. The few appointments he’s made have been mostly inappropriate and incompetent.

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  • Vanessa
    03/09/2018
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    I’m concerned with EVERYTHING about this administration!

    Like (9)
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  • Judith
    03/09/2018
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    Impeach Trump already and get rid of these horrid appointments and regime!

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  • Rebecca
    03/09/2018
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    If there’s no real management of the Social Security office, then no one is managing the money we are putting into our personal futures and what our elders are living on, and the disabled too. So by not appointing anyone legit to handle this, it’s death by suffocation. When the trade war wipes out our 401Ks again and then we lose Social Security, it will be the age of the homeless masses in this country. Damn, I wish those who swore an oath would own it 🤨

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