Even though the statute allows Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue to stay in his position until a successor is confirmed, my understanding is that he intends to leave on January 19, 2013, the official end date to his term of office. While he can look back on accomplishments as Commissioner, a couple of his initiatives have been falling apart as his term draws to an end.
First, Astrue had a grand plan for an occupational information system (OIS) developed completely by Social Security to replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). A replacement for the DOT is badly needed. It's so outdated that its continued use in disability determination is indefensible. The OIS project has been Astrue's single most important initiative. His go it alone plan had a couple of serious problems. It was very expensive. Tens, probably hundreds, of millions of dollars expensive. Getting that kind of money would be difficult in any budgetary environment and this is a terrible budget environment. Those who advocate for claimants were completely opposed to an OIS controlled by the Social Security Administration, feeling that it would be manipulated to the detriment of Social Security disability claimants. This opposition would have been a further obstacle to funding this project. Litigation could have blown up an OIS created by Social Security alone. Eventually, these two problems became too much. Social Security has abandoned its go it alone OIS project and signed an interagency agreement with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that will build on the Department of Labor's existing O*NET system to meet Social Security's needs. I know that Social Security employees cannot access this document from their office computers since it's on Scribd and Social Security computers can't access Scribd. I'm sorry but I don't know where else I can upload it to. Access it from home or get it uploaded to your intranet.
Second, Astrue took a swipe at attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants by ordering that the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) remain a secret until the day of a claimant's hearing. The secret ALJ policy has been a major annoyance for people like me who represent Social Security claimants. The response to the secret ALJ policy has been to make requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn the identity of the ALJ. Once Social Security finally declined the FOIA requests, litigation followed. I don't have a link but Social Security has recently settled one of these FOIA lawsuits (Hoaglund v. Social Security Administration, Western District of Washington) by revealing the name of the ALJ and paying attorney fees. It looks like things worked out about as I had predicted. The justification for refusing the FOIA requests was weak and the Department of Justice had little appetite for defending the lawsuit. The secret ALJ policy is at odds with White House information policies. I suppose that Social Security can wait until after Astrue has left office to officially abandon the secret ALJ policy but I don't see how they can continue it much longer.