1965 Advisory Council




1965 Advisory Council on Social Security
Other Findings

Other Findings

In accordance with its mandate to study and report its findings with respect to all aspects of the program the Council has considered a number of matters which are worthy of comment but which do not, at least at this time, call for recommendations for changes in law or policy.

Simplification of the law

The Council believes that it is important that complexities in the social security law be avoided to the extent that this is possible. Therefore, the Council recommends that a complete re-examination of the Act be conducted by the technical experts of the Social Security Administration and the Congress, and that considerable weight be given to simplification of the law even where this involves deliberalization for rare and special cases. The Council has been informed that much work looking toward an eventual simplification and recodification of the law has already been carried on in the Social Security Administration, and the Council urges that this work be pressed to a successful conclusion.

Public information activities

The Council strongly endorses the Social Security Administration's program of wide public dissemination of information about social security. In its formal statement of operating objectives and in its day-to-day administration of the social security program, the Social Security Administration recognizes the importance of an effective public information system. People need to be informed so they can act to secure their rights tinder the law and discharge their obligations under the law. They need to know ahead of time what rights they have. Security is not only a matter of getting benefits when they are due but of being conscious ahead of time that the protection is there. The responsibility of safeguarding the rights of every individual covered by the program and of providing the full measure of service to which he is entitled can be discharged more economically, as well as more effectively, with the help of a good public information program.

Confidentiality of records

The Council has been made aware of the interest of some groups in changing, the social security law, or in getting a broader application of the authority of the Commissioner to disclose information under present law, so that information from the records of the Social Security Administration would be available for a wide variety of purposes not related to the social Security program. The Council believes that maintenance of the existing restrictions on the use of the personal and private information that has been furnished to the Social Security Administration with the understanding that it will be used only for administering the social security program is essential to protect the right to privacy of employers and all those covered under the program. Moreover, if all persons could not count on the information being kept confidential, some would have an incentive to obtain social security numbers under assumed names or would submit other incorrect data. The Social Security Administration must depend on public cooperation for the effective administration of the program. Inaccurate or incomplete information would threaten the integrity of the records and result in serious problems of administration, including the payment of incorrect benefits and the incurring of increased costs.

The Council endorses the restrictions on disclosure of confidential information prescribed by the social security law and the limited exceptions permitted under Regulation No. 1 of the Social Security Administration, including the special restrictions on disclosure of medical information obtained in connection with claims based on disability. While the Council recognizes that many of the purposes for which information is requested are worthwhile, it is convinced that the Social Security Administration should nevertheless maintain the strict confidentiality of the social security records.

Social security benefits and workmen's compensation

In some cases, disability benefits or survivors' benefits may be paid by both the social security program and a State workmen's compensation program, each program's payment being made without regard to the payment being made under the other program. The Council recognizes that in these dual entitlement cases the combined benefits of the two programs may occasionally be excessive when measured against previous earnings. At present the volume of these situations is not large but the number of cases where combined payments may be excessive in relation to previous earnings can be expected to increase somewhat in the future. Moreover, the issue is not entirely a matter of volume; it would be desirable to prevent any excessive payments resulting from dual entitlement to whatever extent they may occur.

For these reasons the Council has examined various possible ways of meeting the overlap problem through Federal action. None has seemed satisfactory to the great majority of the Council members. Effective administration of a reduction of social security benefits where workmen's compensation is payable would be very difficult to achieve, and the withholding of a contributory benefit because of payment by another system would be hard to defend. The majority of the Council believe that if any adjustment is made it should be made by the workmen's compensation system in those cases where the State considers the combined benefit amount to be too high.

The Council understands that a cooperative study of dual entitlement cases is now being considered by the Social Security Administration and State workmen's compensation agencies. Such a study, the Council believes, would provide worthwhile additional information about the overlap and its effects and might suggest new and better ways of dealing with the problem.

Administration of the social security program

The effectiveness of any law depends, in large part, on how good a job is done by those responsible for carrying it out; a law is only as good as its administration.

From our own observations and from the evaluations of others, we believe that the huge task of administering the social security program, a task which involves the rights of many millions of people and the payment of billions of dollars a year, is being handled effectively and efficiently.

Administrative costs have been kept down to only 2.2 percent of benefit payments, partly as a consequence of the use of the latest in methods and machinery. This low administrative cost, however, has not been achieved by sacrificing high-quality service to the public. Employees at all levels have combined efficient performance of duties with responsiveness to the public and a friendly and sympathetic concern for the aged, the disabled, and the widows and orphans who are the program's beneficiaries.

We should like to register our belief that accomplishment of the purposes of the social security program requires that this high quality of administration--nonpartisan and professional--be continued.