Nomination of Chater now thought 'imminent'


WASHINGTON -- The long-delayed nomination of Shirley Sears Chater to head the Social Security Administration, which has been without a permanent director for nearly a year, could come as early as today, according to a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It is imminent," said Victor Zonana, a spokesman for HHS, the parent of the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration. He denied, however, that the move to submit Mrs. Chater's name was prompted by harsh criticism of the delay by Senate Finance Committee members Tuesday during a hearing with Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others blasted the Clinton administration for taking so long to fill the post. The job has been open since Gwendolyn S. King stepped down last Sept. 30.

Although Mrs. Chater is likely to be confirmed by Mr. Moynihan's committee and the full Senate, she is almost certain to be asked about her failure to withhold Social Security taxes for several baby sitters between 1969 and 1975. Mrs. Chater paid what she believed was owed in back taxes and penalties earlier this year, although she has not revealed the amount.

Mr. Moynihan has promised to quickly schedule a confirmation hearing once the nomination is received.

Mrs. Chater has been on the SSA payroll as an expert consultant since Sept. 8, earning $115,700 on an annualized basis. Her service as a consultant cannot exceed 120 days, and she is expected to be confirmed well before then.

She enjoys the strong support of Ms. Shalala, despite objections of some White House officials. The Clinton administration announced the planned nomination early last month, but the paperwork has been delayed by extensive background checks.

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