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Senate Democrats move on Colvin's nomination for Social Security

Senate Democrats move on Colvin's nomination for Social Security
Carolyn Colvin

Senate Democrats on Saturday moved to advance the confirmation of Social Security Administration nominee Carolyn W. Colvin, despite opposition from Republicans that had appeared to undermine her chances earlier this month.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture to end debate on Colvin during a rare Saturday session in which lawmakers slowly worked their way toward a vote on a $1 trillion spending bill. A vote on Colvin is likely on Monday.

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The Odenton resident with a long history in Maryland state and federal government had been considered an uncontroversial pick to lead the Woodlawn-based agency -- where she has served as acting commissioner since early 2013.

But late opposition materialized over a faulty and expensive computer program.

In a brief speech on the Senate floor on Saturday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, noted that an inspector general is looking into the $300 million computer system. Republicans have referred to that probe as a "criminal investigation" because it involves the investigations arm of the inspector general.

It is not clear whether any crime has been committed. It's also not clear whether Colvin is under any scrutiny. Social Security officials have said the computer system was initiated by her predecessor, Michael J. Astrue, and that she began an internal investigation as problems came to light.

"There have been all kinds of problems arising -- perhaps criminal problems -- at the Social Security Administration," Hatch said. "We should not be voting on this at this time."

Democrats have largely defended Colvin's tenure at the agency.

"Carolyn Colvin has inherited many significant issues at the Social Security Administration, but I believe she's the person to make the necessary reforms," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement.

The agency and its senior leaders are under scrutiny amid revelations it spent nearly $300 million and six years developing a faulty computer system to speed the processing of disability claims. Auditors have said the program has been able to handle only about 700 out of millions of claims.

If not for the computer matter, Colvin had been set to breeze through her confirmation. She was asked few questions when she appeared in August before the Senate Finance Committee for her hearing. Only two Republicans opposed her.

President Barack Obama nominated Colvin in June. If she is confirmed, her six-year term would carry into the next presidential administration.

The independent agency has just more than 60,000 employees, nearly 11,000 of them in Maryland.

A Morgan State University graduate, Colvin joined Social Security as a clerk in 1963. She became deputy commissioner for programs and policy in 1996 and deputy commissioner of operations in 1998. Colvin also served as Maryland's secretary of human resources from 1989 to 1994 under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

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