Carolyn Colvin

President Obama is set to nominate Carolyn W. Colvin, acting Social Security commissioner, to the permanent post. (Getty Images / May 31, 2013)

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Friday will formally nominate Carolyn W. Colvin to head the Social Security Administration, where she has served as acting commissioner since last year.

The decision comes as the Woodlawn-based agency has been criticized by some on Capitol Hill over a long-standing backlog of disability claims and, more recently, the shuttering of dozens of field offices across the country.  

The nomination begins what is likely to be a contentious confirmation process in the Senate. The agency has more than 60,000 employees across the country and serves 57 million beneficiaries.  

"I am grateful for Carolyn's past service in various roles at the Social Security Administration, and I am confident that she will serve the American people well in her new role," the president said in a statement Friday. "I look forward to working with her in the months and years to come."

Colvin, a former Maryland state official, took the reins from Michael J. Astrue, a Bush appointee, who left in early 2013. She has served as deputy commissioner of Social Security since 2011.  

Colvin was a special assistant to the Secretary of Transportation in Maryland from 2009 to 2010. She was the director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services from 2003 to 2006. She holds a B.A. and an M.B.A. from Morgan State University.

In a statement, SSA spokeswoman LaVenia J. LaVelle said that Colvin was honored to be nominated" and "looks forward to a swift confirmation process."

AARP Senior VP of Government Affairs Joyce Rogers said Colvin would add an "important voice to the conversation." 

“We’re pleased to see that the President has nominated a new Commissioner of Social Security at a time when Social Security faces long term challenges that Congress needs to address sooner rather than later," Joyce said.