Social Security reassigns executive accused of being drunk on the job
The reassignment follows a Post report showing the Social Security Inspector General found earlier this year that Gruber had displayed ‘significant abnormalities’ at work over the course of at least a year, including slurred speech in which she ‘appeared drunk “.
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Following the report, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, overseen by Social Security, pressed agency leaders to act, according to congressional aides. Kijakazi has also come under scrutiny as his agency struggled to deliver timely service after restarting field operations this spring after being shut down for more than two years during the pandemic.
Gruber did not respond to a request for comment on his reassignment. Mark Hinkle, a Social Security spokesman, said in an email that “due to confidentiality mandates, we cannot discuss personnel matters.” He did not respond when asked if Gruber, who is paid about $180,000 as a top executive, is keeping her salary.
In his new role, Gruber will conduct an agency-wide evaluation of Social Security’s struggling disability benefits program, which is struggling with a massive backlog of initial claims reviews. Among its priorities will be “removing barriers to customer access” and career development for employees, according to the announcement.
“Terrie’s extensive knowledge of the SSA and her experience in significantly reducing the hearing backlog make her uniquely qualified for this assignment,” Kijakazi wrote.
Gruber’s deputy, Joe Lytle, has been named acting head of the department she previously headed – the Office of Hearings Operations, which runs one of the largest administrative court systems in the world. Its judges are responsible for deciding appeals regarding retirement, survivor and disability benefits for poor and elderly Americans.
Concerns over Gruber’s conduct were set out in a internal report from the office of Inspector General Gail Ennis which has not been made public. It was based on the testimony of six witnesses on Gruber Personal. Witnesses told investigators that Gruber’s behavior led them to wonder if she had been drinking. Gruber, 53, also has diabetes, the report notes, a condition which, when improperly treated, can cause irritability, disorientation or slurred speech.
The witnesses’ claims were corroborated to the Post by three members of Gruber’s senior management.
But she stayed on for five months after Kijakazi received the investigation – and after complaints to investigators that Gruber continued to act erratically.
Social Security officials defended Gruber’s work over a long career and said they had “confidence in the leadership of the Office of Hearing Operations.”
President Biden appointed Kijakazi acting commissioner more than a year ago, but he has not named a permanent leader. Senators have urged her to act on the disability backlog and Gruber’s leadership, according to congressional aides.
“The finance committee has raised concerns with the agency about the backlog of claims and related personnel issues,” a spokesperson for the committee said in an email.
The allegations about Gruber’s behavior at work were widely known among his senior executives, according to several people familiar with the situation.
“Despite many years of good work, Gruber’s recent actions have caused great consternation,” George Gaffaney, an administrative law judge in Gruber’s former Chicago-area department, said in an interview. “Judges are under constant scrutiny from the agency and resentment over the lack of action taken against them was rampant.”