Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin led a symbolic and unsuccessful effort Tuesday to force a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Social Security Administration, arguing that the agency needs a permanent leader in place before the new Congress is sworn in next year.

Carolyn W. Colvin was nominated in June to a six-year term as commissioner of the Woodlawn-based agency, but concerns over a troubled computer system have stalled her confirmation. Senate leaders canceled a vote on Colvin scheduled for this week even as they pressed ahead with other controversial nominations.


Mikulski and Cardin sought a unanimous agreement on the floor to advance Colvin despite a pending inspector general's probe into the computer system. Republicans, led by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, objected to the motion and said the investigation should be concluded before the Senate votes.

"I'm very frustrated that the nomination has become a casualty of the Senate clock and unfair attacks," said Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "She is seasoned, she's experienced, she's a problem-solver and she's a reformer."

The Social Security Administration has about 11,000 employees in Maryland.

Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has repeatedly raised the possibility of criminal wrongdoing at the agency, noting that the investigations arm of an inspector general is looking into the handling of the computer system.

"There is a cloud hanging over her nomination," he said. "It may very well be that Ms. Colvin has done nothing wrong here. I certainly hope that she has done nothing wrong. We should at least be sure."

The Social Security Administration and its senior leaders are under scrutiny amid revelations that the agency 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.

Agency officials have said the system began under Colvin's predecessor and that she took immediate steps to address the problem once it came to her attention.

Colvin, an Odenton resident, has served as the acting commissioner since early last year.

"If we don't confirm her during the lame-duck session, it will be more than two years that the Social Security Administration will have been operating without a confirmed commissioner," said Cardin, a member of the Senate Finance Committee. "This is one of the most important agencies in government."