Guide to NARA Collection

Social Security Textual Records in NARA II

Part 1: Researching Social Security
Related Sources in Other Federal Records

Editor's Note: This narrative is from Abe Bortz's 1969 book, slightly edited and updated for currency.

SINCE ITS BEGINNING, the Social Security Administration has carried on extensive dealings with various elements of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Federal Government. Among these are the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, and Justice; the Treasury and its Internal Revenue Service; the Bureau of the Budget; the Veterans' Administration; and the Supreme Court. In the files of these agencies may be found some documents that can supplement, or round out, the history gleaned from social security records.

Of primary interest, perhaps, are the records of the Federal Security Agency, which in 1939 was established as a parent organization for the Social Security Board and certain other previously independent agencies. In 1953 it was given cabinet status and renamed the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Its records are retained under Record Group 235. (
Editorial Note: In 1980 HEW was replaced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), whose records are housed in RG-468. SSA was part of HHS until 1995 when it became an independent agency within the Federal government.) The following file classifications of this agency's records may be especially important: 010-019, covering legislation, health insurance, etc.; 030, correspondence with Congress and the President; 040, dealings with other Federal agencies; 050, research and statistics (including studies made by outside organizations for the Social Security Administration, and its subordinate bureaus); 110, appropriations; 320, history, reorganization, cabinet status, Hoover Commission findings, and transfers of bureaus in and out of the agency; 370, national meetings, conferences; 500, employment security matters; 600, public assistance; and 700, old-age and survivors insurance.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of information on social security is to be found in records of the Department of Labor. After all, the Social Security Board was originally to have been placed in that Department, according to proposals in the CES Report and the initial Wagner-Lewis and Doughton measures.

Miss Frances Perkins, the Secretary of Labor, was chairman of the CES; her second Assistant Secretary of Labor, Arthur J. Altmeyer, headed its technical board, later served on the three-man Social Security Board, and subsequently became its chairman; Thomas Eliot, a young lawyer on Miss Perkins legal staff, had a major role in drafting the social security measure itself, and became the first general counsel of the Board when it was established. Miss Perkins represented the Social Security Board at cabinet meetings, and the President consulted with her on social security matters dealing with personnel appointments, amendments, and other issues. Thus, throughout her tenure in office close coordination was maintained between the Board and the Department of Labor.{

For information on events taking place during Miss Perkins' period of service, the researcher should turn to records of the Office of the Secretary (of Labor), general subject file, 1933-1940 and 1940-1944. These are in Record Group 174 at the National Archives Building. Preliminary Checklists 28 and 58 are helpful in securing an understanding of the records. Also, an index has been developed that covers some 20,000 Department-level documents dating from 1913, when the Department was established, to 1932. For the next 10-year period, only a small amount of administrative material is included. The index carries a brief summary of each document.{

Records of that Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics are separately maintained under Record Group 257. No preliminary inventory has as yet been prepared for them. These records provide an additional source for materials on the social insurance movement before 1935. From them can be gained a picture of the progress of the earlier movement all around the country (including Alaska), as well as the fate of the earlier Federal proposals to provide benefits under old-age and unemployment insurance. They also include information on procedures used in several foreign countries.

A number of the standing committees in Congress have through the years taken up various aspects of social security, but the two that have had the greatest impact on the design and direction of the law are the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives, and the Finance Committee of the Senate. Others whose records may contain pertinent references are: the Appropriations Committees of both Houses, the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, the Senate's Special Committee to Investigate Unemployment and Relief (1937-1938), and various other special committees, such as the Senate Finance Committee's Special Committee to Investigate the Old Age Pension System (1940-1941), and the Senate's more recent Special Committee on the Aging.

The hearings held by these committees have been printed and thus present no problem to the researcher with access to a good library. For further details on legislative records one may turn to Preliminary Inventory 23 which relates to Record Group 46 (the Senate), and to Preliminary Inventory 113, relative to Record Group 233 (the House of Representatives)

Records of these congressional committees also contain bills that were introduced and rejected, or on which action was never taken; and some resolutions, petitions, and memorials from private-interest groups, political subdivisions, and individuals. However, since the proceedings of the executive sessions of the committees are not open to scholars, reliance must be placed on materials to be found in records of executive departments, in magazine and newspaper articles, secondary works, and the personal papers of leading figures in Congress. Significant in a history of social security might be the personal papers of Congressman Robert L. Doughton, which are at the University of North Carolina; papers of Congressman David J. Lewis, at the Duke University Library; those of Senator James L. Murray, at Montana State University; and those of Senator Robert F. Wagner, at Georgetown University.

Records of the National Resources Planning Board and its predecessors may prove of interest. Originating in 1934, the body's purpose was to attack the economic ills of the Nation on several fronts. In accomplishing this, it was to prepare and present to the President a program for the development and use of land, water, and other national resources. Until it went out of existence in 1944, it conducted studies in such areas as employment security, manpower planning, and related human resources. National Archives maintains it records under Record Group 187. Preliminary Inventories 50 and 64 apply to these files.

Here may also be mentioned the National Emergency Council, established by the President in November of 1933. It was made up of cabinet members and heads of important agencies, and had as its purpose the coordination of interagency organization and the work of new government agencies, so as to secure greater efficiency and productivity. It was consolidated with the Executive Council a year later, and finally abolished in mid-1939. It is noteworthy for the researcher because of the insight into social security history and into the New Deal as a whole that its records may provide.{
3} The minutes of the Council meetings are available at National Archives under Record Group 44. Preliminary Inventory 35 applies to these records.

In 1947 the Congress established the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government. It was to serve for a 2-year period, to study and recommend organizational changes for economy, efficiency, and improved service. Headed by ex-President Herbert Hoover, it was generally referred to as the Hoover Commission. Among the recommendations in its report were some relating to the Social Security Administration. A second Hoover Commission was set up in 1953. Records of these groups are stored at Archives under Record Group 264.

Because the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional some of the New Deal programs, the Social Security Board had difficulty in securing public acceptance of its programs until after a ruling on the constitutionality of the act itself. Some of the agency's activities in connection with cases involving constitutionality are indicated in the Informal Minutes of the Social Security Board, in the chairman's files and those of the executive director, and, particularly, in the collection of the Board's general counsel. Since the Office of the General Counsel was transferred to the parent agency in 1939, the records are stored with those of the Federal Security Agency, in Record Group 235.

The retired files of the Supreme Court repose in the National Archives under Record Group 267, and Preliminary Inventory 139 and Checklist 81 are available for use in identifying their content. However, records on a case decided by the Court are not received by the National Archives until 50 years after the case is closed.{
4} A check of the stored records indicates there is little archival matter that can be made available to researchers other than that which has already been printed or bound in volumes. This material includes lower court records as certified to the Supreme Court, actions, motions filed, and briefs submitted--as well as decisions of the Supreme Court itself. These can be used in the library of the Supreme Court or Department of Justice, or in the Library of Congress.

Another source on the constitutionality decision and on other significant issues is provided by records of the Department of Justice. Its stored files are in Record Group 60, and Preliminary Checklists 11, 24, and 38 supply some guidance to them. In addition, there is an extensive card catalog that refers to individual documents by number. These include all the pertinent court cases dealing with the Social Security Act. The general classification number for social security matters is 137; under this number the following subgroups may be of interest: 01, legislation; 012, policy and procedure; 016, definitions and interpretations; 02, Department orders and memoranda; and 03, coordination, conferences, and agreements.

Some of the issues represented in these records are: proposed amendments to the Social Security Act, and technical details regarding their wording; application of the confidentiality rule for social security records in cases of deserting parents or fugitives from justice; proposals to deny coverage to Communist Party members and similar groups; bankruptcy cases involving social security taxes; differences with operating officials in interpreting the statute; problems in social security coverage of certain religious groups, such as the Amish, and the development of procedures for the detection and investigation of violations of the act, including fraud cases.

The Treasury Department has had an interest in social security matters, extending from the time the Economic Security Bill was first introduced in Congress. Its stand has generally been most influential in deciding the fate of proposed changes in the Social Security Act. In the beginning, and for a number of years thereafter, the Treasury had its own internal Committee on Social Security. An examination of the Treasury records can supply the researcher with an understanding of the Department's position on a particular matter, and its reasons for taking that position. Through the years there have been some differences of opinion between officials of the Treasury and of the Social Security Administration in regard to taxation and the technical and administrative questions involved in the operation of the act. The differences undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that the tax and benefit determinations were being made by two separate agencies.

Records of the Treasury Department are not the easiest to work with, since they are not centrally maintained. However, a considerable portion of the most pertinent material remains in the office of the Treasury Secretary or Assistant Secretary. Records lodged with the National Archives are stored under Record Group 56, but no preliminary inventory is available to assist in their use.

Although the Internal Revenue Service is a part of the Department of the Treasury, the records it has sent to the National Archives have been kept completely separate. These make up Record Group 58, for which Preliminary Inventory 14 has been prepared. In this case also, most of the pertinent records remain with the agency and, to a large extent, these have been decentralized to various sub-units. Thus, the researcher must know specifically what he is looking for or resign himself to considerable loss of time.

In studying the various amendments to the Social Security Act, it would be well to turn to the records of the Bureau of the Budget. Since each measure brought up for presidential action must receive the consideration of the Budget Bureau, the researcher can see in these records the presidential views on issues, as officially expressed by the Director of the Bureau of the Budget--and, in some instances, in handwritten notes by the President himself. Some of the comments of congressional leaders and of the Government officials to be involved in carrying out the proposed changes provide an interesting sidelight.

Records of the Budget Bureau are excellently maintained, both as to those lodged with National Archives under Record Group 51, and those that are retained by the agency. Preliminary Inventory 98 applies to the stored records. Of the files still kept by the Bureau, those relating to the Eisenhower years and earlier are available to scholars.

Some phases of social security history are reflected in Veterans' Administration records. In carrying out the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the Veterans' Administration certified to the Social Security Administration the amounts needed by the individual State agencies. In the 1940's and 1950's, several pieces of legislation provided certain groups of veterans with coverage under social security in a stipulated amount for each month of wartime service performed between 1940 and 1956. Subsequently, the agency also worked closely with the Social Security Administration in carrying out the disability provisions of the Social Security Act.

Retired files of the Veterans' Administration are in Record Group 15, and the material is easy to identify and to secure. Useful, too, are Preliminary Inventory 55 and a number of checklists and subject lists. A central file, in subject-numerical order, was maintained from 1929 until the records were decentralized in 1959. The general category for social security matters in these files is 003.

1. Miss Perkins' personal files are divided among three locations: the Columbia University Library, New York City; the Radcliffe Womens' Archives at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the Connecticut College Library, New London, Connecticut.

2. For additional details, see Oswald L. Harvey, "Inventory of Department of Labor Archives," Labor History, Spring 1963, vol.4, No.2, pp. 196-198.

3. Records of the National Emergency Council are on microfilm at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York. For the printed verbatim account of the meetings of the Council, see
New New Deal Mosiac: Roosevelt Confers with his National Emergency Council, 1933-1936; edited by Lester O. Seligman and Elmer E. Cornwell, Jr.; University of Oregon Books, 1965.

4. See H. C. Hallam, et al., "U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs: A Union List with a Note on Their Distribution and Microfiiming"
Law Library Journal, vol.40, May 1947, pp. 82-84.