For Immediate Release | February 4, 2011
Jill Braunstein at (202) 452-8097
Good morning. I am honored to be asked to speak about Bob Ball and the National Academy of Social Insurance. I am also honored to be so welcomed into the Ball Family over these two decades that we have known each other and as we have been building our Social Insurance “Community.”
Bob Ball worked for all Americans, just as Social Security does.
Bob often observed that Social Security was one of the few direct ways that government reached every American family – practically all of us pay into the system or receive benefits from it. Today, I find out that I am in a sad club with Congresswoman Edwards and Congressman Pomeroy in that I also received Social Security benefits personally. My brother and I received survivors’ benefits for our college years after our Dad died when I was still in high school. Coincidentally, this was when Bob was Commissioner and before the benefit period for student benefits was reduced to high school years.
Bob believed that Social Security is the embodiment of what is good in the social contract: working together and paying together to protect those of us who can’t escape life’s unhappy risks – “vicissitudes” FDR called them, and we in social insurance seem to be the only ones still using that word. Bob’s generation referenced the Great Depression, but ours’ still see many examples of these risk gone awry – these vicissitudes – now, in this Great Recession.
Bob was always intent on deepening and broadening public understanding of social insurance programs.
When he first came to the central office of Social Security, after working in the district office, he emphasized the training of SSA staff at all levels – from receptionists and to senior analysts – in the history, principles and functions of social insurance. He reasoned that if they all understood this well, then the higher purpose of their work would more readily reach beyond Woodlawn and Washington! I understand that Bob’s words about the importance of SSA’s work are now on a large plaque at the east entrance. So he will now remind all employees who enter the building on a daily basis of how important their charge is.
Bob’s concern with the public’s understanding also led to the National Academy of Social Insurance. Bob’s vision of a non-governmental center for research and education on social insurance issues was the one he tried out on Henry Aaron and Alicia Munnell and others involved with him on the Greenspan Commission in the early 80s.
Bob and the organizing committee developed the vision and NASI was officially incorporated in 1986 – we celebrate our 25th anniversary this year. I was fortunate to be hired by Bob as the first staff director of NASI in 1987 and shared offices with him for the next 10 years.
I will always treasure his gentle tutelage about:
• The first principles of social insurance;
• The importance of emphasizing adequacy and equity;
• Finding good spokespeople and champions on both sides of the aisle;
• Making sure media coverage was always accurate and well-informed;
• Making sure NASI’s work was always accurate, objective, and well-informed,
• And, from the very beginning of NASI, nurturing young people to “carry the torch.”
NASI has grown from the 16 intrepid organizing committee members to 900 members and more than 300 young leaders across the US. We are pleased to be a growing body of experts taking the Social Security story to so many stakeholders – the people who contribute while working, so they might benefit when they can no longer work, and their employers, too!
We and they can look on this Robert M. Ball Federal Building with great pride in the magnificent example of how our government, through this program, is indeed “of, by and for the people.”
Pamela J. Larson is the Executive Vice President of the National Academy of Social Insurance and has directed the organization since 1987. She had the privilege of working with Bob Ball for over two decades to build a growing social insurance community – a community of dedicated public servants who continue to fulfill Ball’s legacy. To learn more, please contact NASI at (202) 452-8097, or you can reach Pamela J. Larson directly by email at: plarson[at]nasi.org.
The National Academy of Social Insurance is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization made up of the nation’s leading experts on social insurance. Its mission is to promote understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security and a vibrant economy.