Chater to be first 'independent' Social Security commissioner

November 16, 1994|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Shirley S. Chater will be renominated as Social Security commissioner, President Clinton said yesterday, 13 months after she took over the troubled Woodlawn agency.

Mr. Clinton said he would appoint Ms. Chater to a six-year term under a law he signed in August that makes Social Security an independent agency, separate from the Department of Health and Human Services.

With 65,000 employees, including 14,200 in the Baltimore area, Social Security collects payroll taxes for 135 million Americans and pays disability and retirement benefits to another 46 million.

"I can think of no better person to protect and maintain the administration's commitment to Social Security," the president said in a statement.

Ms. Chater, 62, who will become the first "independent" commissioner, subject to removal only for good cause, said she was "excited about the challenges that lie ahead for Social Security."

The expected appointment came after a bitter campaign season in which Democrats and Republicans proclaimed the sanctity of Social Security benefits and accused each other of planning cuts.

Even as the campaign was heating up, Congress began to discuss, ever so gingerly, Social Security's solvency. The retirement trust fund is expected to run into cash-flow problems in less than 20 years, and most experts believe that taxes will have to be increased or benefits reduced to assure the system's long-term solvency.

Social Security has also been criticized for its administration of the mushrooming disability program. Soaring applications are approaching 3 million a year, creating a backlog of more than 1 million cases and forcing claimants to wait months, sometimes up to two years, for benefits.

And, the Clinton administration has told the agency to cut its work force by 5,000 employees -- less than 10 years after it lost 20 percent of its workers to Reagan administration cuts.

The agency is trying to comply by automating and streamlining its disability process.

Ms. Chater's nomination is subject to Senate confirmation, expected early next year.

There was no reaction yesterday from Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers have been disappointed with her performance.

Social Security issued statements of praise for the appointment.

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