Spotlight: SSA

Which federal agency operates the largest social insurance program in the world? The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) administers Social Security, the retirement, disability and survivors’ benefits that constitute more than 30% of all federal government expenditures. In 2012, more than 56 million Americans received about $778 billion in Social Security benefits.

The agency’s predecessor, the Social Security Board (SSB), began life as an independent agency when it was established on August 14, 1935, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, with the signing of the Social Security Act. The SSB became a sub-cabinet agency in 1939, when the Federal Security Agency was created. In 1946, under President Harry S. Truman’s Reorganization Plan, the SSB was renamed the SSA. In 1953, the Federal Security Agency was abolished and the SSA was placed under the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which became the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 1980. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law 42 U.S.C. § 901,  which returned the SSA to the status of an independent agency.

The SSB was one of the first federal agencies to have its national headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., and its adjacent suburbs. It initially was housed in the Candler Building on Baltimore’s harbor because there was no building in the National Capitol Area capable of holding the unprecedented amount of paper records that the SSB would need. Soon after, construction began on a permanent building for the agency in Washington, but by the time the new building was complete, World War II had started, and the building was commandeered by the War Department.

The agency remained in the Candler Building until 1960, when it relocated to its newly built headquarters in Woodlawn on Security Boulevard (Route 122)—which, since it was built and named for the agency, has become a major artery connecting Baltimore with its western suburbs. Because of space constraints and ongoing renovations there, many headquarters employees work in leased space throughout the Woodlawn area. Other headquarters offices are located in Washington, D.C., and Falls Church, Va.

Nationwide, the SSA has more than 80,000 employees who work in a network of 1,300+ field offices located in all 50 states, as well as in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam, plus 140 hearing offices, 37 teleservice centers, ten regional headquarters offices and six program service centers (in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City and Birmingham). It is in the process of building a new $500 million, 400,000-square-foot data center, to be known as the National Service Center, in Urbana Maryland. Today, the agency faces many hurdles, as the older population it serves grows and extensive budget cuts are mandating cuts in staff and field office closings nationwide.