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Social Security: Organizational History of SSA

Organizational History of Social Security Administration

Note: This entry is from the Online History of the Social Security Administration (

Introduction: The Social Security Administration (SSA) began in 1935.  It became a sub-cabinet agency in 1939, and returned full-circle to independent status in 1995. Throughout the years, arguments had been heard in the halls of Congress that SSA should be returned to independent agency status. This debate was given impetus in 1981 when the National Commission on Social Security recommended that SSA once again become an independent Social Security Board. The 1983 National Commission on Social Security Reform (aka, the Greenspan Commission) again raised this issue and recommended a special study be commissioned of the matter. This study was completed in 1984 and it outlined several options for making SSA an independent agency. This led to numerous legislative proposals in the ensuing years and in 1994 the legislation passed both houses of Congress unanimously. President William Clinton signed the bill on August 15, 1994 (59 years and one day after FDR signed the original Act).


This Committee was established by President Roosevelt in June 1934 (Executive Order No. 6757) to develop a comprehensive social insurance system covering all major personal economic hazards with a special emphasis on unemployment and old age insurance. The Committee’s legislative recommendations were presented to the President in January 1935, and introduced to Congess for consideration shortly thereafter. A compromise Social Security Bill was signed by the President on August 14, 1935.


A three-member Board was established to administer the Social Security Act. It was responsible for old age insurance, unemployment compensation and public assistance titles of the Social Security Act. The Chairman of the Board reported directly to the President until July 1939 when the Board was placed organizationally under the newly established Federal Security Agency. The original Social Security Board consisted of the three member Board, an Executive Director, three Operating Bureaus, five Service Bureaus and Offices and 12 Regional offices.


The Bureau of Federal Old-Age Benefits, renamed the Bureau of Old-Age Insurance (BOAI) in 1937, was created in December 1935 and was the forerunner of today’s Social Security Administration. The Bureau was responsible for Title II of the Social Security Act and its functions included: the maintenance of wage records; supervision of field offices; examination and approval of claims, including related claims functions (for certification of payments recovery of excess payments, and hearing and deciding appealed cases); and the making of actuarial estimates.


It was apparent from the beginning that the scope of the Title II program (old age benefits) would require considerable decentralization. The first step in this direction was the establishment of twelve regional offices attached to the Social Security Board with Regional Representatives for each program. The Bureau of Old Age Insurance concurrently began to establish field offices in October 1936 for public contact and 100 were in operation by February 1937.


This established the Federal Security Agency (FSA), and the Social Security Board became a part of that agency. The FSA also administered the programs of the U.S. Public Health Service, Office of Education, National Youth Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. The U.S. Employment Service and the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation were consolidated into the Bureau of Employment Security under the Social Security Board. The only administrative change was the transfer of the General Counsel and personnel functions to a central function under the FSA Administrator. The FSA Administrator permitted the Social Security Board to continue its program in an independent manner. The Bureau of Old Age Insurance was renamed “Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance” (BOASI) when the President signed the Amendments to Title II of the Social Security Act on August 10, 1939, which provided benefits for dependents and survivors of insured workers, and made other major changes. In 1940, a Control Division was added to handle the increased claims load resulting from the 1939 amendments. Finally, a Training Section was established in the Director’s Office to take over the complete training program, a part of which had previously been handled by the Social Security Board.


Because of the war-time scarcity of space in Washington and a marked increase in the benefit rolls, the central offices of the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors’ Insurance were moved to Baltimore in 1942. At the same time Area Offices were opened in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans for the certification and recertification of claims. The Control Division was replaced by the Claims Control Division and the old Claims Division by the Claims Policy Division. The adjudication of claims was shifted to the field offices, leaving the responsibility for claims review in the Claims Control Division and its area offices.


The President’s reorganization Plan No. 2, effective in July 1946, abolished the Social Security Board and placed its functions under the newly established Social Security Administration (still under FSA). The FSA Administrator established the position of Commissioner to head the Social Security Administration (SSA). Several administrative functions (i.e., personnel, procurement, information services, etc.) from the Social Security Board were incorporated into SSA at this time.


In August 1948, following the transfer of the Regional Offices from the Social Security Administration to the Federal Security Administration, new SSA regions were established. Also, in 1948, a Division of Management Planning and Services was created within the Bureau of Old Age and Survivors Insurance to address problems created as a result of tremendous growth in the size of the Bureau.


The Federal Security Agency was abolished and its functions transferred to the new Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). The Bureau of Federal Credit Unions was transferred to the Social Security Administration and the Commissioner’s position was designated as a presidential appointee requiring Senate confirmation.


A modified (disability) freeze program, the precursor of the present disability program, was enacted as a part of the 1954 amendments. The Division of Disability Operations was founded to provide unified program, policy, procedural and operational leadership for this new program.


On January 28, 1963, a reorganization in HEW retained the old-age, survivors and disability program functions in the Social Security Administration and established a new Welfare Administration to administer five Federal-State programs (the Children’s Bureau, Bureau of Family Services, the Special Staff on Aging, and the Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Development Staff). The Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, the Office of the Actuary, and the Division of Program Research continued as units of SSA. The Bureau of Federal Credit Unions was still affiliated with SSA but only for administrative support. This split effectively made the old BOASI and other legislated social insurance programs into the modern day Social Security Administration.


The 1965 Amendments not only increased the scope and complexity of OASI and DI programs, but established the Health Insurance Program (Title XVIII) which became known as Medicare. A reorganization was effected which established four program Bureaus (Retirement and Survivors Insurance, Disability Insurance, Health Insurance, and Federal Credit Unions). A centralized record keeping operation, the Bureau of Data Processing and Accounts, was established to service all programs as well as a single field organization. Five functional staff units with agency-wide responsibility for program evaluation and planning, actuarial functions, public affairs, management and research functions were also established. Also at this time, the regional presence was enhanced by the establishment of the ten Regional Commissioners who served as the Commissioner’s representatives and were responsible for evaluating and coordinating the agency operations. It is notable that the Regional Commissioners were not delegated “line authority,” so they might retain their objectivity and detachment.


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