The Staats Report
The 1983 Amendments, following a recommendation of the Greenspan Commission, authorized the establishment of a study panel to undertake a "thorough study with respect to the implementation of removing the Social Security Administration from the Department of Health and Human Services and establishing it as an independent agency in the executive branch with its own independent administrative structure, including the possibility of such a structure headed by a board appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate."
The politics of the independent agency were multi-facited, although simple in a way. Both houses of Congress and both political parties were generally in favor of returning SSA to independent status. In fact, a bill passed twice in the House by virtually unanimous margins, only to fail for lack of action in the Senate. Administrations over the years, both Republican and Democratic, tended to resist the idea. The real debate in the Congress was over the administrative form such an independent organization would take. In particular, the House tended to support returning SSA to a board structure like that of the original Social Security Board, while the Senate preferred a single strong executive as head of the agency. This difference of opinion was one of the main reasons that the '83 Amendments called for a study of the administrative feasibility of making SSA independent, with a special charge to advise the Congress on the Board vs. single administrator issue.
The Study Panel consisted of three members: Elmer B. Staats as Chairman (a long-time government executive); Martha Derthick (a leading academic); and Arthur Hess (a former top-level Social Security Administration official), along with an Executive Director, P. Royal Shipp, and a staff of eight. The Panel's report, issued in June of 1984, kicked off an intense period of persistent efforts to craft legislation which could pass both houses of Congress and secure the signature of a usually reluctant President.