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Legislative History of the Board

Interest in making SSA independent dates back to the early 1970s when members of both houses of Congress proposed bills to insulate the agency from partisan politics.  Senator Frank Church (D., ID) introduced one of the earlier bills to establish SSA as an independent agency, S. 3143, on March 11, 1974.  Representative Claude Pepper (D., FL) also introduced an independent agency bill, H.R. 13940, in 1974.  Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, both Senator Church and Representative Pepper reintroduced their independent agency bills in each Congress, although no action was taken on these bills.

The bipartisan calls for independence increased in the early 1980s as the program was repeatedly brought up in congressional budget discussions and used for partisan purposes.  In 1981, the National Commission on Social Security, chaired by Milton Gwirtzman, an attorney and author from Massachusetts, recommended that SSA should be established as an independent agency.[1]  In 1983, the bipartisan National Commission on Social Security Reform led by Alan Greenspan, later Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, also made this recommendation.[2]  In response to the Greenspan Commission, Congress commissioned a study on the best form of governance for an independent SSA that same year.  In 1984, the Congressional Panel on Social Security Organization chaired by Elmer Staats, former Comptroller General of the U.S., recommended that SSA be headed by a single executive with a bipartisan Advisory Board.[3] 

In the mid-1980s through early 1990s, the House of Representatives passed two bills to establish SSA as an independent agency.  The first, H.R. 5050, was passed by a vote of 401 to 0 on July 22, 1986.  The second, H.R. 5429, was passed by a vote of 350 to 8 on June 29, 1992.  The Senate was slower to approve of SSA’s independence as repeated proposals were stopped in the Senate Finance Committee.  Senator Patrick Moynihan (D., NY) first introduced a bill (S. 2922) to make SSA an independent agency on August 8, 1984, and introduced similar bills in each succeeding Congress.  However, it was not until the Senator introduced the Social Security Administration Independence Act of 1993 (S. 1560) that the movement toward an independent SSA began to gain traction in the Senate.

The Senate passed S. 1560 by a voice vote on March 2, 1994.  The following day, a message was received by the House requesting concurrence.  On April 21, 1994 Representative Andrew Jacobs, Jr. (D., IN) introduced H.R. 4277, the Social Security Administrative Reform Act of 1994.  On May 17, 1994 H.R. 4277 was passed by the House by a vote of 413 to 0.  Although the House disagreed with the Senate amendment to H.R. 4277 proposing an alternative form of agency leadership, management and oversight, it agreed to a conference. 

On July 20, 1994 the Committee of appointed Senators and Representatives met and agreed to file a conference report on H.R. 4277.[4]  The conference report largely followed the Senate amendment.  SSA would be governed by a Commissioner appointed by the President and a 7-member part-time Advisory Board would be appointed for six-year terms (for a more detailed explanation of the Conference, see next section).  On August 5, 1994 the Senate passed the conference report by a voice vote.  The House passed the same report by a vote of 431 to 0 six days later on August 11, 1994. 

Although there was clearly strong bipartisan support in the Congress for the idea of making SSA independent, incumbent administrations, both Republican and Democrat, always opposed the idea.  When the issue began heating up in the first term for President Clinton, his Administration originally opposed independent status for SSA.  The agency was the largest operating division within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and accounted for about 51 percent of HHS’s total staff and over half of its budget.  However, in the summer of 1994, President Clinton shifted positions and signaled his willingness to support SSA as an independent agency.  On August 15, 1994 President Clinton signed the conference report on H.R. 4277 (P.L. 103-296) in a Rose Garden ceremony.


Pictured: President Clinton signing the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act in a Rose Garden Ceremony on August 15th, 1994, formally authorizing the establishment of the Social Security Advisory Board.

On March 31, 1995 the law took effect.  SSA was separated from HHS and became an independent federal agency.  It was thereafter run by a single administer appointed for a six year term, supported by a 7-member bipartisan Advisory Board, known today as the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB).

 

Conference Agreement Creating the Board

When Senator Patrick Moynihan (D., NY) introduced S. 1560, the Social Security Administration Independence Act of 1993, the bill included a provision for the creation of a 7-member Advisory Board.  The Senate passed S. 1560 by a voice vote on March 2, 1994. 

On April 21, 1994 when Representative Andrew Jacobs, Jr. (D., IN) introduced the House of Representative’s version of S.1560, H.R. 4277, the Social Security Administrative Reform Act of 1994, the bill had no provision for the creation of an Advisory Board.  Instead, the House called for SSA to be governed by a 3-member, full-time Board, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. 

Ultimately, the two houses of Congress agreed to a Conference to settle their differences.  The Conference Agreement generally followed the Senate’s provision, which called for the creation of a 7-member Advisory Board. 

The excerpt below was taken directly from the Social Security Administrative Reform Act of 1994 Conference Report, which accompanied H.R. 4277, signed into law as the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-296) by President Clinton on August 15, 1994.

 

From the Conference Report – August 4, 1994

(3) Advisory Board

Present law

            No provision.

House bill

            No provision.

Senate Amendment

 

A 7-member part-time Advisory Board would be appointed for 6-year terms, made up as follows: 3 appointed by the President (no more than 1 from the same political party); 2 each (no more than 1 from the same political party) by the Speaker of the House (in consultation with the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on Ways and Means) and the President pro tempore of the Senate (in consultation with the Chairman and Ranking Minority member of the Committee on Finance).  Presidential appointees would be subject to Senate confirmation.  Board members would serve staggered terms.  The chairman of the Board would be appointed by the President for a 4-year term, coincident with the term of the President, or until the designation of a successor.  The Board would meet at least 6 times each year and generally would be responsible for giving advice on policies related to the OASDI and SSI programs.

Compensation of members would be set at a rate equal to 25 percent of the rate for level III of the Executive Schedule (in addition, on meeting days compensation would be equivalent to that of the daily rate of level III of the Executive Schedule).  Other benefits (except for health benefits) would not accrue.  The Board would be required to appoint a staff director (paid at a rate equivalent to a rate for the Senior Executive Service) and would be authorized to hire necessary staff.  The Board would be exempt from the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.[5]

Specific functions of the Board would include:

Analyzing the nation’s retirement and disability system and making recommendations with respect to how the OASDI program and SSI program, supported by other public and private systems, can most effectively assure economic security;

Studying and making recommendations relating to the coordination of programs that provide health security with the OASDI and SSI programs and with other public and private systems;

Making recommendations to the President and to the Congress with respect to policies that will ensure the solvency of the OASDI program, both in the short-term and long-term;

Making recommendations to the President of candidates to consider in selecting nominees for the position of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner[6];

Reviewing and assessing the quality of service that SSA provides to the public;

Reviewing and making recommendations with respect to policies and regulations regarding the OASDI and SSI programs;

Increasing public understanding of the Social Security system;

In consultation with the Commissioner, reviewing the development and implementation of a long-range research and program evaluation plan for SSA[7];

Reviewing and assessing any major studies of Social Security that may come to the attention of the Board; and

Conducting such other reviews and assessments as the Board determines to the appropriate.

Conference Agreement

The conference agreement generally follows the Senate amendment, except that Advisory Board members would serve fixed terms, meet at least four times a year (four members, not more than three from the same political party, would constitute a quorum), and serve without compensation, except that, while serving on business of the Board away from their homes or regular places of business, members may be allowed travel expenses, including per diem in lieu of subsistence, as authorized by section 5703 of title 5, United States Code, for persons in the Government employed intermittently.

Specific functions of the Board include:

Analyzing the Nation’s retirement and disability systems and making recommendations with respect to how the OASDI program and SSI program, supported by other public and private systems, can most effectively assure economic security;

Studying and making recommendations relating to the coordination of programs that provide health security with the OASDI and SSI programs and with other public and private systems;

Making recommendations to the President and to the Congress with respect to policies that will ensure the solvency of the OASDI program, both in the short-term and the long term;

Making recommendations with respect to the quality of service that SSA provides to the public;

Making recommendations with respect to policies and regulations regarding the OASDI and SSI programs;

Increasing public understanding of the Social Security system;

Making recommendations with respect to a long-range research and program evaluation plan for SSA;

Reviewing and assessing any major studies of Social Security that may come to the attention of the Board; and

Making recommendations with respect to such other matters as the Board determines to be appropriate.

In general, it is expected that the scope of the Advisory Board would be broadly focused, as indicated by its statutory mandate.  This would be in contrast to the focus of recent Advisory Councils, which have tended to focus on specific aspects of the program.  While the Advisory Board is required to review and assess the quality of service to the public provided by SSA, the conferees expect that the performance of this or any other duty shall not serve as a basis for the Advisory Board to become involved in the day-to-day operation or management of the agency.  Moreover, the conferees do not see the Board’s role in evaluating SSA’s policies and regulations as extending to the Board any special status with respect to the requirements and procedures related to the Administrative Procedures Act.

While the Board will appoint a staff director and hire required clerical support personnel, any additional staff required by the Board will be provided by the Commissioner of Social Security, who will detail employees to the Board, as agreed by the Commissioner and the Board.[8]  It is the intention of the conferees that the Board’s staff director and clerical support staff not fall under the cap imposed by the conference agreement on positions that may be exempted from the competitive service at SSA.

To carry out its duties, the Advisory Board must have access to the records of SSA.  Therefore, it is expected that SSA will furnish information requested by the Advisory Board that, in the Board’s judgment, is required for the performance of its duties.

The conferees believe that it is important to emphasize that the Board is advisory in nature, and that its members will meet on a part-time basis rather than serve as a standing body.  It is expected that the Commissioner will consider the advice of the Board when formulating agency policy.  The conferees anticipate that the Board will be effective in enhancing public confidence in the Social Security system.  They believe that the Board’s independent status and bipartisan membership make it especially well-suited for this important task.


[1] This was the first time that a Commission composed entirely of private citizens had been chartered by Congress to do such a study. Members of the National Commission on Social Security included: Milton Gwirtzman (Chairman), James J. Dillman (Vice-Chairman), Elizabeth T. Duskin (Vice-Chairman), Wilbur J. Cohen, Russell W. Laxson, Donald S. MacNaughton, Joyce D. Miller, Robert J. Meyers, and David H. Rodgers.

[2] The National Commission on Social Security Reform was appointed by the Congress and the President in 1981. Members appointed by President Ronald Reagan include: Alan Greenspan (Chairman), Robert A. Beck, Mary Falvey Fuller, Alexander B. Trowbridge, and Joe D. Waggonner, Jr. Members appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate, Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. (R., TN), in consultation with the Minority Leader, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D., WV), include: William Armstrong, Robert Dole, John Heinz, Lane Kirkland, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Representative James Claude Wright, Jr. (D., TX), in consultation with the Minority leader, Representative Henry Robert Michel (R., IL), include: William Archer, Robert M. Ball, Barber Conable, Martha E. Keys, and Claude D. Pepper.

[3] The Congressional Panel on Social Security Organization included: Elmer Staats (Chair), Martha Derthick, and Arthur Hess. The House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee tasked the Panel with formulating a plan to establish a separate Social Security agency. The Panel created a unanimous report after holding 6 public hearings and hearing from 53 witnesses.

[4] Appointed as conferees were Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., NY), Max Baucus (D., MT), John Breaux (D., LA), Bob Packwood (R., OR), and Bob Dole (R., KS) and Representatives Sam Gibbons (D., FL), Daniel D. Rostenkowski (D., IL), James J. Pickle (D., TX), Andrew Jacobs, Jr. (D., IN), Harold Ford, Jr. (D., TN), Bill Archer (R., TX), Jim Bunning (R., KY), and Richard J. Santorum (R., PA).

[5]The Federal Advisory Committee Act became law in 1972 and is the legal foundation defining how federal advisory committees operate. The law has special emphasis on open meetings, chartering, public involvement, and reporting.

[6] This function was omitted from the Conference Agreement.

[7] This functioned was modified in the Conference Agreement to remove the wording “In consultation with the Commissioner”.

[8] The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 included an amendment giving the Board authority to hire such staff as it considers necessary. The Board may also request Federal employees to serve on detail to the Board.