Michael D. Johnson, who spearheaded a host of initiatives to modernize and automate Social Security payments, said he is taking early retirement to pursue a career as a private consultant.

Mr. Johnson, 54, spearheaded the Social Security Administration effort that resulted in 75% of beneficiaries receiving their payments through direct deposit. With 35.2 million people participating, the agency's program is the largest originator of automated clearing house transactions.

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