Appointees Signal Persistance of “Reform” Agenda

On September 19, the President announced his intention to designate Sylvester J. Schieber to be Chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB). The President also intends to nominate Mark J. Warshawsky and Dana K. Bilyeu. Is there a common thread with these three individuals and with the nomination of Michael Astrue to be the new Commissioner?

Note that the President has recently stated that he plans to put “Social Security reform,” which includes private accounts, on his agenda in 2007.

Mr. Schieber is Vice President/U.S. Director of Benefit Consulting at Watson Wyatt Worldwide. He has been on the SSAB since 1998. Notably, he was a member of the 1994-1996 Advisory Council on Social Security, which presented three plans to address the long-range financing of the Social Security trust funds. The plan supported by Mr. Schieber was known as the “Personal Security Account” (PSA) and would transform Social Security into a two-tier benefit. The basic benefit, flat amount would have been about 47% paid to an average worker in 1996, or $410 (in 1996). The second tier would be a personal account that would be financed by shifting 5.0 percentage points of payroll tax and there would be complete freedom to invest in the market. There could be no withdrawal prior to retirement, including no access at the time of disability onset.

Mark Warshawsky was Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy in the U. S. Treasury Department. In this position, he was considered the Department’s top economist. Previously, he was Director of Research at the TIAA-CREF Institute. Many of his speeches, while he was at the Treasury Department, are available on the Internet. In March 2005, he gave a speech on “The Urgency for Social Security Reform in the United States.” This speech leaves little doubt that he supports privatization.

Dana K. Bilyeu is currently the Executive Officer of the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada. She is an attorney and previously served as the System’s legal counsel in the Nevada Attorney General’s Office.

Mr. Schieber does not need any further confirmation. However, as new SSAB members, Mr. Warshawsky and Ms. Bilyeu will need to go through the Senate confirmation process.

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