Social Security Wins Its Independence New Law Designed to Shield Agency from Manipulation

Article excerpt

The Social Security Administration got its independence Monday at age 59.

President Bill Clinton borrowed a pen used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and signed a law designed to shield the enduring but troubled agency from political manipulation. The law also will restrict benefits paid to substance abusers.

The House and Senate had voted unanimously for the legislation separating the $325 billion program from the Department of Health and Human Services. With 64,000 employees and 1,300 field offices, the newly autonomous agency will be one of the largest in the federal government. More than 40 million elderly and disabled Americans receive Social Security benefits, and 135 million pay into the fund.

Clinton signed the bill at a Rose Garden ceremony 59 years and one day after Roosevelt signed the legislation that created the agency. Clinton said, "We are strengthening those things which Social Security ought to do and taking precautions to make sure it does not do things which it ought not to do."

The new law is intended to build public confidence in the Social Security Administration and fortify its leadership after two decades of upheaval and declining services.

The agency has had 12 commissioners in the last 17 years and was leaderless for much of last year. It has undergone six reorganizations since 1975 and lost one-fifth of its staff during the 1980s, even as the number of people seeking disability benefits was increasing. …