Martin O'Malley: What to Know About Social Security's New Commissioner

Martin O'Malley gets Senate nod to lead the Social Security Administration.

Martin O'Malley, head of the Social Security Administration
(Image credit: Kevin Dietsch, Getty Images)

The Senate confirmed former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley by a 50-11 vote on Monday (December 18) to be the Social Security Administration's (SSA) new commissioner.

O'Malley, whom President Joe Biden nominated four months ago, will fill the term expiring on January 19, 2025 of Andrew Saul, whom the president fired more than two years ago and replaced with current Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi.

O’Malley comes into the position during a tenuous time for the agency. He faces a number of Issues including the agency's solvency and concerns over Social Security benefits, a staffing shortage and a $23 billion overpayment problem.

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During his confirmation hearing, O'Malley also touched on one of the biggest issues that the agency is grappling with — customer service. O’Malley vowed to work on cutting customer service wait times and to work with staff to boost morale and streamline processes.

“The truth is, today, the Social Security Administration is serving a 50 percent increase in beneficiary customers with the same levels of staffing they had in 1995,” he said at his hearing.

Maryland senators voice their support

U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) pointed to O'Malley's tenure as governor of their state and voiced their support for his nomination and win. 

“As the former chief executive of our state, I know he is committed to serving the American people and that he will be a great team leader for the public servants who power this Maryland-based agency,” Van Hollen said. “I’m confident in his commitment to protecting this vital earned benefit and delivering critical service for those who count on it.”

In a tweet following the announcement, O’Malley said he was “humbled and honored” to be chosen for the job.

“President Biden believes Social Security is a sacred promise,” he wrote. “I look forward to earning the senate’s approval and serving with the hardworking patriots of the U.S. Social Security Administration.”

On the same day O’Malley was voted in, Kijakazi detailed the agency’s accomplishments in a statement. She also acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead.

Challenges ahead

“The combined effect of the pandemic and chronic underfunding have taken a toll on our employees,” she said in the statement. “It has led to high attrition and backlogs. Our budget directly drives the level of service we can provide."

She said that the agency needs enough well-trained employees to ensure that it can meet the needs of those it serves. "New hires are necessary to begin to reduce growing backlogs and improve service. I am pleased that the funding we received in fiscal year 2023 allowed us to hire nearly 8,000 employees in the past year, but we must be able to maintain this staffing level.”

O'Malley, who also served two terms as mayor of Baltimore, said during his confirmation hearing that he implemented the city's first 311 system. He also said he has a track record of engaging with new technology to move a system — especially one as outdated as the Social Security Administration — toward more modern, user-friendly processes.

O'Malley, who also ran an unsuccessful bid for the presidential nomination in 2016, "likes to tout his statistics-based approach to governing, both in Baltimore City and in the governor's mansion,” according to an NPR report published in 2015 during his bid for president. “While serving as mayor, O'Malley launched a program called CitiStat to improve management and services across Baltimore. Modeled after the Compstat program used by the New York City Police Department, CitiStat focused on real-time tracking of a plethora of urban problems — from broken street lamps and potholes to how often city employees were skipping work.”


Jamie Feldman

Jamie Feldman is a journalist, essayist and content creator. After building a byline as a lifestyle editor for HuffPost, her articles and editorials have since appeared in Cosmopolitan, Betches, Nylon, Bustle, Parade, and Well+Good. Her journey out of credit card debt, which she chronicles on TikTok, has amassed a loyal social media following. Her story has been featured in Fortune, Business Insider and on The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CBS News, and NPR. She is currently producing a podcast on the same topic and living in Brooklyn, New York.