Commissioner of the Social Security Administration: Who Is Carolyn Colvin?

Saturday, August 02, 2014

On June 20, 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Carolyn Watts Colvin to be commissioner of Social Security. Colvin has been serving in the job in an acting capacity since February 14, 2013. Her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Finance on July 31 was without controversy.


Colvin was born May 27, 1942, in Arnold, Maryland, the state in which she has spent her entire life. She graduated from segregated Wiley H. Bates High School in Annapolis. Colvin’s first professional jobs were for the City of Baltimore, beginning in 1969 in the Department of Housing and Community Development. While working for the city, she attended night school at Morgan State University, earning a B.S. in Business Administration in 1971 and later an MBA from the same school.


In 1982, Colvin jumped into politics, working as a field organizer for Democrat Paul Sarbanes, who was running for Senate from Maryland. When he won, Colvin was named his director of field operations, serving until 1984. She then returned to Baltimore, becoming the city health department’s deputy commissioner for administration.


Colvin moved to Maryland’s state government in 1988, as deputy secretary for operations in the state’s Department of Human Resources. The following year, she was appointed by Gov. William Schaefer to be the department’s secretary, responsible for administering state assistance programs.


While in that position, Colvin authored a controversial plan that tied some assistance benefits to children’s school attendance and getting preventative medical care. Although it was instituted in a time of cutbacks in state government, Colvin insisted its purpose was to encourage parents to take better care of their children and not to cut benefits. Critics said the cuts hurt children, who often had no say in whether they attended school or got health care.


In 1994, Colvin got her first taste of the Social Security Administration (SSA) when she was named deputy commissioner for policy and external affairs in the Clinton Administration. In 1998, she was put in charge of Programs and Policy and in 1998 she was named deputy administrator for operations.


With the end of the Clinton Administration, Colvin was named director of human services for the District of Columbia, taking over a department said to be in disarray. After two years, she moved to suburban Montgomery County, Maryland, to lead its department of Health and Human Services. Colvin took her first private-sector job in 2007, as chief executive officer of Amerigroup Community Care, an HMO in Washington D.C. In 2009, Colvin was named special assistant to Maryland’s secretary of transportation.


Colvin joined the Obama Administration in December 2010 as deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, serving until her term ended in 2013, at the same time as that of Commissioner Michael Astrue. At that time, Colvin was named acting commissioner.


One of her major decisions in her current job was to halt collection of decades-old Social Security overpayments from beneficiaries or their descendants. Some people found their refunds from 2013 income taxes attached to settle overpayments of which they had no knowledge and derived no benefit. In April, Colvin halted the collections.


If confirmed, Colvin will serve the remainder of the six-year term that began when Astrue stepped down. Colvin will have to deal with the closing of Social Security offices and the halting of some services to clients. The service cutbacks come in response to flat funding levels for the SSA despite a sharp increase in those receiving benefits.


Colvin is a widow who has two sons, one of whom is deceased, and six grandchildren.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Spotlight: Carolyn W. Colvin (Destiny-Pride)

Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner (by Jody Brannon, National Journal)

See all 29 comments


donna l fredlow 5 years ago
I don't know who to contact about my social security disability case I started the process in 2012 have had to refile with different advocates and now its been 13 months that I have been waiting for my appeal hearing. 13 months of my records being reviewed I meet the qualifying standards and now may loose my home due to the wait but all I am told is it can take months
isaac j jackson 5 years ago
how can I sign up
Russell Riegel 6 years ago
I'm on Social security disability. The last five installments have been stolen out of my account. I've talked to people from SS about it. I was supposed to be reembursed for back pay. I've recieved nothing and i'm desperately in need of a walker, eye glasses, and other things including food.please help me. I live in cypress, tx.
Anthony Clarke 7 years ago
The Social Security Administration is a joke. The office of Marsha Blackburn and MaryAnn Buentello are complicit in assisting the Social Security Administration in falsifying records and using ill provisions to collect eligible constituents entitlements claiming they were overpayments without the Commissioners approval.
Ruby Salyer 7 years ago
I have been fighting for my social security since 2009 and been denied every time .i appealed at appeals council and was denied a review. All my medical records prove I'm not able to work but the ALJ gives no weight to my Doc opinion only the option of doctors I've never seen and even the vocational expert said after my attorneys hypothical question that there wouldn't be any jobs that would keep me and still I've been denied? What does the Appeals Council actually do it was an unfair decision legally and by the weight of evidence. I have no money my utilities are being shut if I pray every month I will have enough food to eat for me and my family.oh and I'm blind in my right eye and have very poor vision in the left with glaucoma. And my medical records show this
michael scott 7 years ago
I am a 100% service connected veteran. Its amazing the so called workers at stone mountain ,ga. Cant read the brave act. I have been denied 2 times on my social security disability claim'
carol mann 7 years ago
ATTENTION: Carolyn Watts Colvin - thank you for hearing me. Do you have an ETA of when D.C. is going to pay back the $2.6+T to Social Security? And do you know why THAT story is never reported on? S.S.A. is not "short" because of it's users but because D.C. saw it as their personal slush fund starting in late 50's. Again - when might this get acknowledged and resolved. Thanks again....
S A 7 years ago
Well I have gone from being a decent middle class working individual (over 35 years working), to just a homeless individual with nothing to show for all the years that I have worked. My mistake is I got sick and am no longer able to work but there are certain people that get these jobs for a reason. They sit and watch decent human beings suffer and self deteriorate, laughing and smurking at anothers hardships. These indecent subnormals should be fired for misconduct and jailed. I think they need to suffer like I have over the past 4 years. Lose everything they have worked for all their life, have their family destroyed and go into debt having them try and live in this nonAmerican country. Served six years in the nonAmerican military, just to get spit on by some nonprofessional individual(s) that are paid by my tax dollars and they are unappreciative. We really need to start a petition and list of names, to get these horrific ego driven nonhumans out of the jobs, to include doctors, judges, and case managers, etc....NOW!
Margaret Ferrer 7 years ago
I told the case worker the doctor was going to call him to see which paper he need, and that when he declined my case.He had up December 13 to get information, he has been mistreating me since this case started.
Jonathan Arterton 8 years ago
I have no idea if this will reach anyone. I turned 70 last October and have not been able to collect my benefits. I've been trying to return a payment made by direct deposit to my account last summer so that I can cancel my July application and re-apply for benefits to start in October at my full age 70 rate. I've called every three weeks and made several visits to my local office with no result.

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