Late Friday afternoon, news broke that Andrew Saul, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA), was removed from his role by President Joe Biden. Biden had asked for Saul’s resignation, as well as that of Deputy Commissioner, David Black. While Black did submit his resignation, Saul refused to resign and was thus removed by Biden. As you may recall, Andrew Saul was appointed in 2019 and was set to serve a six-year term. His removal last week came after the Justice Department determined that a president had the authority to remove the commissioner of SSA based on recent Supreme Court decisions; the first was related to the removal of the Federal Housing Finance Agency Director and the second focused on removal protections for the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Saul has been highly criticized throughout his term, dating back prior to the pandemic when he revoked SSA’s long-standing work from home options for employees. As the pandemic hit, Saul was slow to react to inventory management issues, resulting in considerable backlogs at the Initial & Reconsideration levels. President Biden’s proposed budget for FY2022 reflects a 9.7% increase from 2021 levels to $14.2B, with specific funding focused on addressing operational challenges and improving decision timing to correct some of the issues created under Saul’s leadership. In Saul’s own letter to Congress in April, he conceded that the average time to process claims increased by 20% in the 2020 fiscal year, causing significant bottlenecks and service deterioration.
As we shared back in January, SSA’s employee unions came out saying they would like Commissioner Saul removed as part of the new Biden administration. In a press release, the “American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) joined together today calling for the ouster of Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black. The joint effort came on the heels of last month’s overwhelming votes of no confidence in the SSA leaders by the members of AFGE Council 220, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, and IFPTE Judicial Council 1, the Association of Administrative Law Judges (JC1/AALJ).” After Friday’s announcement, the President of AFGE, Ralph de Juliis, issued the following statement: “It’s a new day at the Social Security Administration. Andrew Saul and David Black spent nearly three years dragging down the quality of service the American people deserve. They have destroyed employee morale, mismanaged the distribution of key stimulus relief funds to millions of elderly and disabled beneficiaries and led the charge to create an anti-employee, anti-union workplace.”
Moving forward, Kilolo Kijakazi, a Biden appointee, will become Acting Commissioner of SSA while a new search is completed. Kijakazi was appointed by Biden in January 2021, and has been serving as SSA’s Deputy Commissioner for Retirement & Disability Policy. Previously, Kijakazi worked at the Urban Institute and was awarded the 2021 Robert M. Ball Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Insurance. As reported by The Washington Post, Saul has indicated he will be disputing the decision to terminate, saying he considers himself the “term-protected commissioner of Social Security” and indicating he would be signing into work on Monday remotely from his home in New York.
We will keep you informed of any changes in policy or operational trends as we watch this transition closely.