Guide to NARA Collection

Social Security Textual Records in NARA II

Part 1: Researching Social Security
Background to Social Security & Its Records


Both the 1969 Abe Bortz book and the 1976 Newman "Preliminary Inventory" contained introductory sections providing something of the background of the Social Security Administration and its records. Both Introductions were informative and valuable, even though both are now somewhat dated. Because they do contain a wealth of useful background information, we are reproducing large parts of both documents here in this Introduction, as well updating the material to reflect changes at SSA since 1976.

Of particular importance in this background material is the narrative involving SSA's organizational history. This is vital to navigating the Social Security records since they are almost always stored and cataloged by title of the SSA organization which created the records. So, for example, all the records of the planning and design of the original Social Security Act are housed under the category of the Records of the Committee on Economic Security, which was the title of the Presidential commission which President Franklin Roosevelt established to draft his Social Security proposals. Without understanding what the CES was and what its role was, a researcher might overlook records of interest. Knowing when a particular component was added to the SSA organizational chart (see Part 4 for detailed organizational charts) will also give a researcher a rough idea of the dating of a particular collection of records, as well as some idea about their contents, by virtue of the responsibility of the organization which generated the records. So even though organizational history may seem rather dry and uninteresting, in this context it is useful.

(In the material which follows we have included extensive portions of both the Bortz and Newman material, notwithstanding the fact that there is some overlap between the two. However, the emphasis and the content of the two narratives is sufficiently distinct to make both write-ups valuable as background for researchers.)



THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT of 1935 set in motion a system of old-age insurance providing at age 65 certain benefits made possible through taxes shared equally by employer and employee, in commerce and industry. In addition, it established a Federal-State system of unemployment insurance, based on taxes paid by the employer only. The act further provided for Federal grants-in-aid to the States for programs of public assistance, child health and welfare services, general public health services, and vocational rehabilitation services.

According to one historian, this measure reversed "historic assumptions about the nature of social responsibility, and it established the proposition that the individual has clear-cut social rights."[
1] There was, as another phrased it, a recognition "that problems of unemployment and old age would be permanent ones in a modern society."[2] The act has been described as "a new landmark in American history,"[3] and as "a tremendous break with the inhibitions of the past"[4]; another writer called it "revolutionary," saying that it was to bring government "into the lives of people as nothing had since the draft and the income tax."[5] "At last the national Government had acted to underpin the future security of Americans,"[6] wrote another. It has been said that President Roosevelt considered the Social Security Act the "supreme achievement of his administration"[7]; but he felt it was only a beginning, "a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete . . . ."[8]

The history of social security in this country is a fertile field for research, and much of the story of how it all began and evolved into the broader programs of today is yet to be written. The primary sources for this aspect of social history are the day-to-day official records of the Social Security Board (after 1946, the Social Security Administration), and of its subordinate bureaus and offices; significant materials are also to be found in the record collections of other Federal agencies and files of congressional committees. These historic records are located in the National Archives Building and other records depositories around the country, and also in various libraries, museums and historical societies. . . .


FOR THE IMMEDIATE BACKGROUND to the Social Security Act itself, the logical records to turn to are those of the Committee on Economic Security (CES), an organization established in June 1934 with a charge to prepare legislative recommendations to relieve the problems of economic insecurity. The committee was chaired by Miss Frances Perkins, who was Secretary of Labor, and included in its membership other agency heads, viz., Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (Treasury), Homer S. Cummings (Attorney General), Henry A. Wallace (Agriculture), and Harry Hopkins (Federal Emergency Relief Administration).

The committee's executive director, Edwin E. Witte,[
9] was assisted by a technical board of which Arthur J. Altmeyer (then Assistant Secretary of Labor) was chairman; and by an advisory council of 23 persons representing business, labor, and other groups. In addition, special advisory groups were established under the CES to consider the medical, public health, hospital, dental, and nursing aspects; and some were set up to treat public employment, public assistance, and child welfare. A staff of experts was drawn together to aid in the preparation of a series of studies and reports on the various subjects to be considered by the CES.[10]

The CES made its report to the President in January 1935 and, soon after, the President's own measure was introduced in both houses of the Congress for simultaneous consideration. Following extensive debate and lengthy hearings, each house passed its own version. Eventually the differences between them were ironed out, and the Social Security Bill was signed into law on August 14, 1935. However, Congress adjourned without appropriating funds for administering it.

Forced to begin operating on limited, borrowed funds, the Social Security Board nevertheless moved ahead in approving State plans for implementing the programs which involved the matching of State funds with Federal funds. In this way, unemployment compensation, public assistance, and other Federal-State programs were put into operation, and funds released for payments to recipients.

The new agency was immediately confronted with the task of devising and setting up a field organization adequate to administer the large, exclusively Federal, old-age benefits program and to monitor use of Federal moneys in the State-administered programs. In connection with organizing such a system, the Board conducted or sponsored some very worthwhile studies on personnel administration. The resultant regional and field office organization may well have been the first of its kind in America, at least on so vast a scale. The plan called for establishment of 400 field offices throughout the country to assist employers and employees in complying with the Federal old-age benefits program, and a system of 12 regional offices to work with the States on programs to be matched with Federal funds. In each regional office, the staffing paralleled the organization of the headquarters office, each headquarters bureau having its own program representative. This decentralization of authority to the regions undoubtedly contributed to development of the cooperative relations existing between the Federal and State agencies.

In addition to other problems of beginning, the headquarters bureaus had to be staffed, particularly the burgeoning Bureau of Federal Old-Age Benefits. This became an urgent matter as a massive project was begun to secure the enumeration of all persons qualified to come under the contributory insurance program. (The term "registration" was avoided since it might connote regimentation.) The operation involved the assignment of social security numbers to employers and employees. It was carried out through somewhat complicated arrangements with the Post Office Department, providing for initial individual applications to be made at local post offices all over the country. Some information on this operation is contained in records of the Social Security Board, but records of the Post Office Department on this subject have apparently been destroyed.

Files of the Chairman of the Social Security Board (which are actually for all three Board members) cover the years 1935-1940, and are stored at the Archives Building in 132 boxes. . . Another collection of records, running concurrently, was assembled in the office of the executive director of the Social Security Board. Lines separating the functions of the chairman and of the executive director were not clearly drawn and there is therefore some overlapping in the subject matter contained in their file collections. There is also a massive central files collection covering the years 1935-1947 and comprising 555 boxes. . . . These include the combined records of the chairman (later the Commissioner) and the Executive Director (later the Deputy Commissioner) for 1941-1948, and the similarly significant records of the Commissioners for 1949-1950.

It is in the records of the Executive Director that the researcher will find perhaps his best starting place for reconstructing the story of the Social Security Board's regional offices. Here can be found correspondence between the Executive Director and Regional Directors, along with memos of the periodic conferences held to discuss common problems that had to be faced in the field--such as convincing State and local officials, businessmen, and the workers themselves to accept the various obligations imposed on them by the Act. Especially significant are the relations that Board representatives developed with public officials and others in the individual States. Some of this is also found in the Chairman's files.

Materials in both file collections show the attempts made by the Board to get the States to raise employee standards of performance, equalize benefits, and establish merit systems for the selection and promotion of personnel carrying out the several Federal-State programs. There is some of the story here also on how the States brought into existence laws conforming to the Social Security Act, particularly in connection with unemployment compensation and public assistance. However, research for this story would also involve delving into records of the various State legislatures and State administrative offices.

One studying the development of social security must become aware of the influence Arthur J. Altmeyer exerted on its shape and direction in America.[
11] He began to work on getting national legislation while he was the second Assistant Secretary of Labor, even before the CES was established. When the CES was formed, he held the important post of chairman of its technical board. In 1935, he was appointed one of the three original members of the Social Security Board. Two years later he became its Chairman, a job he held until the Board was abolished in 1946, at which time he was made Commissioner of the new Social Security Administration. He headed the organization until 1953 when he left the Federal service. During these years he came to be known throughout the country as "Mr. Social Security."[12]

Social security was a key political issue in the elections of 1936,1940, and 1948. Daily press digests prepared by the Informational Service of the Social Security Administration provide an insight into the role it played in these elections and the attitude of the public toward the program and its problems, as reflected in newspapers and magazines. These digests were developed from the comprehensive press bulletins issued daily by the Press Intelligence Division of the Department of Commerce from the perusal of 400 newspapers and a number of weekly and monthly magazines. The bulletins supplied editorial views and news coverage, usually in excerpted form, on practically every major issue that came before the Congress, the President, and the American people between 1933 and 1942. They are to be found in the files of the Office of Government Reports . . . For their use, one may refer to Preliminary Inventory 35, Record Group No. 44, Division of Press Intelligence, 1933

In searching out the history of social security, particularly useful are the Official Minutes of the Social Security Board for 1935-1946; the Commissioner for Social Security Minutes for 1946-1948; and the
Commissioner Action Minutes for 1948-1963 (subsequently, the Commissioner's Decisions). These deal with the important policy and procedural matters brought to the top level for discussion and necessary action. The basis for decisions made or actions taken is presented in succinct, summary style.

In the administration of the Social Security Act, a matter that early became a public issue concerned the size of the reserve that would be needed to carry out the old-age benefits program. This had been an issue even in the days when the bill was under discussion in Congress prior to enactment, and it grew in importance after operations under the new law began. In 1937, Congress set up an Advisory Council on Social Security to study the entire program and make recommendations. Those offered by this group had a large part in shaping the 1939 amendments.

The 1939 amendments brought about some fundamental changes, especially for the Federal old-age benefits program. The retirement plan was reshaped into a family-type insurance plan that provided benefits also for widows and young children of the workers originally covered by the program. Then, too, the amendments gave to the Social Security Board authority to require the States to establish and maintain personnel standards on a merit basis, as a condition for the receipt of Federal grants in the public assistance and unemployment compensation programs. This provision had broad implications for the professionalization of social workers, the stabilizing of staffs against erosion by political changes within a State, and the strengthening of civil service systems generally.[

Federal grants-in-aid were the instruments by which a number of the provisions of the Social Security Act were carried out. Over the years the Federal share of matching grants has increased--particularly in regard to benefits at the minimum levels. The grants system, now involving billions of dollars each year, has become an integral part of present-day America. This device of matching State funds with Federal moneys has made possible the operation by States of assistance programs determined to be of national social concern. It has also enabled the provision of money benefits rather than benefits-in-kind, thereby encouraging recipients of aid to take on greater responsibility in the management of their own affairs.

For the story on Federal matching, the records of the Bureau of Public Assistance should be examined. . . . In 1946 the Office of Federal-State Relations was established in the Federal Security Agency to oversee the Federal grant-in-aid programs. Its records are included under Record Group 235.

A further source on the subject would be the files of the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an organization set up by Congress in 1953 to study Federal grants-in-aid and the fiscal resources of States and the Federal Government. These files are stored under the catch-all Record Group 220, but have been maintained as a separate entity. . . .

The Bureau of Federal Old-Age Benefits became, in 1937, the Bureau of Old-Age Insurance; after the 1939 amendments, it was designated the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance.

The Children's Bureau played an important role in the history of social security in both the health and welfare areas. Earlier a bureau of the Department of Labor, it was made a part of the Social Security Administration in 1946. Since it had State-operated programs, its files reflect extensive relations with State legislators and administrators. Its records are easy to work with, so that the evolution of various subjects can be followed without difficulty. . . .

Soon after the Social Security Act was set in operation, a problem arose over coordination between the Social Security Board's Bureau of Unemployment Compensation and the U.S. Employment Service, then in the Labor Department. In 1939 the two were combined under the name Bureau of Employment Security, and lodged with the Social Security Board; however, this was only the first of many moves. In 1942 the Employment Service was separated from the Bureau and moved into the War Manpower Commission; in 1945 it rejoined the Department of Labor; in June 1948, it was returned to the Social Security Administration, once more as a part of the Bureau of Employment Security. Finally, in August 1949, the Bureau of Employment Security in its entirety was transferred to the Department of Labor. Records of the unemployment compensation program are stored under Employment Security, in Record Group 183.

The Bureau of Federal Credit Unions did not become a part of the Social Security Administration until 1948, but its history goes back to 1934, when the first Federal Credit Union Act was passed. Its activities came under the Farm Credit Administration until 1942, and for the next 6 years under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In providing for cooperative financing through organizations formed of persons having some common interest with each other, the credit union system offers a measure of protection against economic insecurity. Federal credit unions comprise about half of the credit union movement in the United States, the other half being State-chartered. Records of this bureau are a part of Record Group 47, but have been maintained as a separate entity.

Of special interest to the researcher are minutes of the staff meetings that were regularly held by the executive director with directors of the several bureaus. These can provide some key areas for sketching in a story. Beginning in November 1936, monthly reports were submitted by each of the bureaus and separate offices; by 1937 annual reports also were prepared.

Annual reports of the Social Security Administration in the early years were forceful presentations of emerging policy positions and program developments. Those for later years seem more routine, but still provide an overall view of the activities, major problems, and recommendations for legislative changes. . . .

From these references, the researcher can discover the issues that confronted those who faced the responsibility of carrying out the major programs of the act. He will learn some of the early problems such as those involved in operating a three-man Board, and the difficulties connected with securing experts and attorneys, and the qualified personnel to head operating and service bureaus, especially under the pressures being exerted by Congressmen who wished to influence the choices in favor of their constituents.

The Social Security Bulletin is the professional journal of the Social Security Administration. It has been published monthly since March 1938 and presents an invaluable source for historical statistics on all
the programs that have been administered by the Administration. Reference copies are distributed to all depository libraries.

In 1934--and on numerous occasions since--the Congress established an Advisory Council on Social Security. The activities of these groups are worthy of attention, since most major changes in the act have resulted, immediately or ultimately, from recommendations made by these advisory councils. Their deliberations and reports are to be found in the Social Security Board and Administration collections, principally under the 025 classification. In addition to materials on the advisory council of 1934 and the one of 1937--mentioned earlier in connection with the 1939 amendments--the researcher may wish to check the records for the 1948-1949 council, as well as more recent ones.

The work of important though lesser known advisory councils and committees may prove interesting to the researcher. Among them would be those that have worked with the Children's Bureau, the Bureau of Public Assistance, the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation (after November 1939, the Bureau of Employment Security), and the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance. There were also those set up to study social problems involving disability, medicine, and research. Dealings with these groups are well documented in the records of the Social Security Administration and of its subordinate bureaus (see especially file classifications 025 and 026).

The disability and Medicare provisions that have been added to the law in the years since 1950 have roots in some of the earlier records. Background on the disability insurance provisions may be found in a 1934 study conducted by the CES, as well as in records of the Social Security Administration and of the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance. Records of the CES and its Medical Advisory Committee contain references to health and hospitalization insurance. A report on health insurance was issued by the CES in 1935, but it did not lead to any legislation beyond that in the Social Security Act's Title VI, administered by the Public Health Service.

The President subsequently established the Interdepartmental Committee to Coordinate Health and Welfare Activities. It was chaired by Josephine Roche, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and Arthur J. Altmeyer (who had been recently appointed to the Social Security Board) served as a member of the committee. Its activities led to the National Health Conference of 1938, which by educating the public helped to prepare the way for a national insurance plan. Materials on this and other Federal interdepartmental committees are to be found in records of the Social Security Administration in both the chairman and executive director collections, principally under the 026 classification by name of committee.



The Social Security Administration (SSA) has its origins in certain provisions of the Social Security Act of August 14, 1935.

On June 8, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a national social welfare program designed to lessen the burden of economic insecurity, especially that caused by unemployment and old age. By Executive Order 6757, the President created the Committee on Economic Security (CES) on June 29, 1934. The Committee was to "study problems relating to the economic security of individuals" and to "report to the President by December 1, 1934, its recommendations concerning proposals which in its judgment" would lay the foundation for a national social security system.

The Committee consisted of a chairman, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, and four other members: Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Attorney General Homer Cummings, Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace, and Federal Emergency Relief Administrator Harry Hopkins. The Executive Order provided the Committee with an executive director, an advisory council, and a technical board. Edwin E. Witte, who was chief of the Legislative Library of Wisconsin and experienced in the development of social welfare legislation, was appointed Executive Director. He recruited a staff of specialists in the field of social welfare legislation and helped the Committee to name advisory committees in the fields of health, child welfare, and unemployment and relief.

President Roosevelt wanted the Committee to prepare a plan for a social insurance system that would protect Americans against all major personal hazards that lead to poverty and dependency. Chairman Perkins conceived the task of the Committee to be the establishment of a long-range, comprehensive program embracing all phases of economic security and the development of an immediate legislative program confined to items that it deemed wise to press for in the subsequent session of the Congress.[
14] The Committee's staff conducted studies to determine the social insurance programs that would be most functional, and the Committee invited persons prominent in the field of social welfare to the one-day National Conference on Economic Security that was held in Washington, D.C., on November 14, 1934.

The Committee sent its report to the President on January 15, 1935, with a draft of a bill embodying its recommendations. The major recommendations were that the Federal Government should assure maximum public and private employment to American citizens and also should provide, in cooperation with State governments, unemployment compensation for persons temporarily out of work. Also proposed were a Federal old-age insurance program and Federal-State programs for aid to dependent children, the aged, the blind, and the disabled. The President sent the Committee's report to the Congress on January 17, 1935, with a message that "legislation should be brought forward with a minimum of delay" (Misc. Doc. 18, 74th Cong., 1st sess.).

The Social Security Act, which was passed after many technical amendments, provided for a program of Federal old-age annuities. It also authorized grants-in-aid to the States for administration of programs for unemployment compensation, old-age assistance, aid to the blind, and aid to dependent children. All of these programs were to be guided by the policies of the three-member Social Security Board (SSB), an independent agency. The members of the Board were to be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The provisions of the act relating to services for maternal and child health, child welfare, and crippled children were to be administered by the Children's Bureau of the Department of Labor. Plans for the extension of public health programs were to be devised by the Public Health Service of the Department of the Treasury, and a vocational rehabilitation program was to be administered by the Office of Education of the Department of the Interior.

SSB was responsible for: the formulation of policies for the administration of the programs under its direction, the determination of effective organization and procedures for these programs, the coordination of Federal-State relations within the context of the programs, and the preparation of an annual report to the Congress. The Executive Director was responsible for the general supervision of the work of the entire staff in the central office and the 12 regional offices. The initial operating offices of SSB consisted of the Bureaus of Federal Old-Age Benefits, Unemployment Compensation, and Public Assistance. The staff and service offices were the Office of the General Counsel; the Bureaus of Research and Statistics, Accounts and Audits, and Business Management; and the Informational Service.

The only program developed under the Social Security Act for which administrative responsibility was lodged wholly within the Federal Government was the old-age insurance system. The principal function of the Bureau of Federal Old-Age Benefits (renamed the Bureau of Old-Age Insurance in 1937 and the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance in 1939, when its functions were enlarged) was to allot monthly annuities or lump-sum payments to workers who had earned rights to benefits upon reaching the age of 65.

The functions of the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation were to recommend, for approval by the Board, State unemployment compensation laws that conformed to the guidelines of the Social Security Act; to help State governments in organizing the administration of these laws; to examine estimates of relevant administrative expenses submitted by the States; and to recommend to the Board amounts for appropriate grants-in-aid to the States.

The Bureau of Public Assistance administered the program of grants to the States for aid to dependent children, the aged, and the blind. It assisted the State governments in preparing plans for such aid, reviewed submitted plans, and made recommendations to the Board regarding their approval. The Bureau also exercised continuous supervision over the operation of approved plans.

The five staff and service offices aided the above operating offices in carrying out their functions. The Office of the General Counsel, besides performing legal duties incidental to the work of the Board itself, studied proposed State legislation and gave legal advice. The Bureau of Research and Statistics carried on a research and analysis service designed to promote the efficient administration of the Social Security Act and to aid in the formulation of social security policies. The Bureau of Accounts and Audits established and maintained a system of accounting for all phases of SSB financial operations. It also compiled material for the preparation of the annual budget and kept accounts of the earnings of persons covered by the old-age insurance system and of the payment of benefits under that system. The Bureau of Business Management handled personnel operations and provided clerical and building management services. The Informational Service provided educational materials to enhance public understanding of the Social Security Act.

Each regional office of SSB was headed by a director who was responsible to the Executive Director of the Board. The regional offices coordinated the activities of the Board in the States, furnished information to individuals affected by the Social Security Act, and provided other services to States that cooperated under various provisions of the social security program. Within each region there were numerous field offices concerned primarily with the administration of old-age benefits.

The Social Security Board lost its status as an independent agency on July 1, 1939, when Plan No. I of the Reorganization Act of 1939 became effective. This plan created the Federal Security Agency (FSA) and brought together under that agency various Federal organizations, including the Public Health Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Office of Education, and SSB. (A year later there were added to FSA the Food and Drug Administration, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Freedmen's Hospital, Howard University, and the Columbia Institution for the Deaf.)

Also in 1939 the functions of the U.S. Employment Service (USES) were transferred to the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation, which was renamed the Bureau of Employment Security (BES); the Office of the General Counsel was transferred, with its staff and functions, from SSB to FSA, where it was to serve all organizational components of the new agency.

With the involvement of the United States in World War II, centralized management of the Nation's labor force was instituted. On December 19, 1941, President Roosevelt ordered the State Governors to transfer to the Social Security Board, as of January 1, 1942, the facilities, personnel, and records of the State and local employment offices for uniform national operation. On April 18, 1942, the War Manpower Commission was established by Executive Order 9139 to assess the Nation's labor needs and coordinate the efforts of Federal agencies in allocating labor resources essential to wartime services. On September 17, 1942, USES and the functions of SSB that related to employment were assigned to the War Manpower Commission by the President.

The Social Security Board was abolished on July 16, 1946, and its functions were transferred to the Federal Security Administrator. On the same date the Social Security Administration was established under the direction of the Commissioner of Social Security. To SSA, which in effect was the successor of SSB, was transferred the Children's Bureau (exclusive of its Industrial Division). The Children's Bureau became the fourth operating bureau of the newly formed SSA.

In 1948, USES, which had been moved from the War Manpower Commission to the Department of Labor in 1945, was returned to the Bureau of Employment Security in SSA. Under Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1949, however, BES and USES were again assigned to the Department of Labor. The Bureau of Federal Credit Unions, formerly part of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, was transferred to SSA in 1948. The Bureau oversaw a program for the issuance of Federal charters to groups operating credit unions.

By 1953 the programs of the Federal Security Agency affected the lives of millions of people and operated on an annual budget greater than the combined budgets of the Departments of Commerce, the Interior, Justice, and Labor. President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for the replacement of FSA by a department of Cabinet status. Reorganization Plan No. 1 of April 11, 1953, replaced FSA with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which was to consist of the following five major operating components: the Office of Education, the Food and Drug Administration, the Public Health Service, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and SSA. Except for a change in name in 1962 of the Bureau of Public Assistance to the Bureau of Family Services, the major operating bureaus of SSA remained the same until 1963.

In a major reorganization of HEW on January 28, 1963, the Children's Bureau and the Bureau of Family Services were incorporated into the new Welfare Administration, and SSA was assigned the primary mission of administering the Federal old-age, survivors, and disability insurance programs. Under the Office of the Commissioner of Social Security were placed the divisions and staff of the former Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and the divisions involved with program research and actuarial duties. The two bureaus that remained were the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions and the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, the latter of which directed the SSA appeals process through a nationwide organization of hearing examiners and a central review of their decisions.

In 1965 the Social Security Act was amended to include a medical program for the aged. In 1966 new organizational components were added to SSA to administer the hospital and supplementary medical insurance programs and to increase the economy, efficiency, and technical support of the agency. The Office of the Commissioner was responsible for the direction of administrative, actuarial, informational, evaluational, and research functions. Five new bureaus were added: Data Processing and Accounts, Disability Insurance, District Office Operations, Health Insurance, and Retirement and
Survivors Insurance.

Two major organizational changes have taken place in SSA since 1966. On March 10, 1970, the functions of the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions were transferred to the National Credit Union Administration, and on January 1, 1974, there was established in SSA the Bureau of Supplemental Security Income for the Aged, Blind, and Disabled.


The material in RG-47 currently goes up through some limited records for 1988 (generally in the area of SSA's computer operations). There have been four major pieces of legislation in the period between 1976-1988. There have also been numerous organizational changes since 1976.

In late 1977, Congress passed and President Carter signed into law the 1977 Amendments. This legislation primarily concerned financing matters. It core aim was to address some short-term financing difficulties which arose in the adverse economic climate of the early to mid-1970s, with its then-unprecedented combination of high unemployment and high inflation (a combination which came to be known as "stagflation"). In June of that year, a reorganization of HEW took place whereby a new organization was created to manage the Medicare and Medicaid programs. SSA thus transferred authority over these programs from its Bureau of Health Insurance (which was abolished) to the new Health Care Financing Administration. SSA also replaced its Assistance Payments Administration with the Office of Family Assistance (OFA).

In early 1978 SSA made a procedural shift which would turn out to have larger than expected consequences. One of its major cyclical workloads--Annual Wage Reporting by employers--was shifted from a quarterly process to an annual one. One unintended consequence of this shift was the build-up of huge backlogs of unprocessed earnings reports as SSA struggled to cope with an inundation of work all at once each year. This breakdown in operations (and some other related workloads) would lead to a crisis in computer systems operation which would be addressed in 1982 in a major Systems Modernization Plan.

In January 1979 SSA announced a major reorganization (see
Org Chart #5).This major reorganization created two Deputy Commissioners, one for Operations and one for Programs; and it rearranged the four Associate Commissioner Offices into 10 Offices, thereby dramatically changing the names and functions of major parts of the organization.

In May 1980, a major cabinet-level change occurred when the Department of Education was created out of the old education responsibilities of DHEW. This meant that DHEW was abolished and replaced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As SSA's parent agency in the cabinet, HHS thus became the top-level in SSA's organizational structure and references to HHS begin to appear in the records.

In June 1980 President Carter signed the Social Security Amendments of 1980. Among the chief changes were greater work incentives for disabled Social Security and SSI beneficiaries; and a mandate to review the disability rolls to identify recovered individuals whose benefits could be terminated. This review, undertaken at the start of the Reagan Administration in 1981, became highly controversial and led, after much litigation and political contention, to the enactment of the Disability Benefits Reform Act in October 1984.

On December 16, 1981 President Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12335, which established the National Commission on Social Security Reform. The Commission was created as a result of the continuing deterioration of the financial position of the Old-Age and Survivors Trust Fund, to made recommendations to assure the financial integrity of the Social Security System. This Commission, known informally as the Greenspan Commission, after its Chairman, Alan Greenspan, led to the enactment in April 1983 of the 1983 Amendments. The 1983 Amendments were the last major piece of Social Security legislation of the 20th century and they established several new principles under which the program now operates (such as partial taxation of benefits, coverage of federal employees, and raising the retirement age).

In May 1983 SSA Commissioner Jack Svahn announced another major reorganization at SSA (
see Org Chart 6). This reorganization increased the number of Associate Commissioners from 10 to 15, abolished the two Deputy Commissioner positions and put in their place a layer of four Deputies between the Commissioner and the Associate Commissioners. These new Deputies, each had responsibility for a discrete functional area of the organization.

On October 22, 1986 President Reagan signed into law the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Among its provisions, the law required that every dependent age 5 or older listed on a tax return had to have their own Social Security number. This new requirement doubled SSA's enumeration workload in the following year and led to the creation in 1989 of a new automated system to assign Social Security number to newborn infants (SSA's Enumeration At Birth process)

In July 1987 SSA Commissioner Dorcas R. Hardy announced another internal re-organization (
see Org Chart 7). Commissioner Hardy's reorganization replaced one functional Deputy with one with different responsibilities (the Deputy for Systems was replaced by one for Policy and External Affairs and the systems function was transferred to the existing Deputy for Operations.) This meant that numerous organizations were shifted about in their place in the organization and as a result their records may appear under the name of a different higher-level organization.

On October 1, 1988 SSA launched its first nationwide toll-free telephone network for offering SSA's services by phone.


1. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (Harper and Row, 1963 ), pp. 132-133.

2. Wallace E. Davies,
The New Deal: Interpretations (MacMillian Company, 1964 ) , p. 58.

3. Leuchtenburg, op. cit., p. 132.

4. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.,
The Coming of the New Deal (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1958), p. 315.

5. Carl N. Degler,
Out of Our Past (Harper and Brothers, 1959), p. 387.

6. James MacGregor Burns,
Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., Harvest Ed., 1956), p. 267.

7. John Gunther,
Roosevelt in Retrospect (Harper and Brothers, 1950), p. 286.

8. Roosevelt's remarks upon signing the Social Security Act, August 14, 1935.

9. See Edwin E.. Witte,
The Development of the Social Security Act (University of Wisconsin Press Madison, 1962). Sere also unpublished thesis by Theron J. Schlabach, "Edwin E. Witte: Cautious Reformer," available for reference at the University of Wisconsin Library. Mr. Witte's papers are lodged with the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison. These comprise 300 boxes and some miscellaneous items, and relate to correspondence, research material, articles, and studies, with a separate collection on social security correspondence and research. A 40-page description is available at the Society.

10. See
Social Security in America: The Factual Background of the Social Security Act as Summarized from Staff Reports to the Committee on Economic Security, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1937.

11. Mr. Altmeyer's book,
The Formative Years of Social Security (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1966), gives details on problems and personalities in the early years.

12. The State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison received 11 boxes of Mr. Altmeyer's personal papers in 1964. These include correspondence with Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, proposals and comments on tentative regulations, administrative decisions and practices, and other memoranda, studies, reports, speeches, and articles.

13. For much of this history, records of the State Technical Advisory Service (organized in November 1937) are essential. Early materials may be found in the Social Security Board records; later ones are in the Federal Security Agency flies, under State Merit Systems Services or Division of State Merit Systems.

14. Edwin E. Witte, The Development of the Social Security Act (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962), p. 20.