The mission of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) as a Federal agency is to
administer several benefit programs for railroad workers and their families. To
accomplish this mission, the RRB must often gather and maintain a great amount
of information on particular individuals. This information can be broadly
classified as follows.
The RRB maintains a record for each person who worked in the railroad
industry at anytime since 1936. The information in the record includes the
railroad(s) for whom the employee worked, the number and identity of the months
for which he worked, and the monthly amount the employee earned (but only up to
the maximum amount taxable for the given year). The RRB obtains this information
directly from the railroad employers, who are required by law to provide this
information to the RRB. In addition, this group of information may also include
the employee's claimed date of birth, sex, and race.
At one time this information was furnished and maintained in paper or punch
card format; however, today it is almost completely computerized. What paper
exists containing this information is largely computer-generated.
Of the three types of information, service and compensation information is
maintained on the most individuals. Many individuals who have railroad earnings
credited to them never file for sickness or unemployment benefits and do not
remain employed with the railroad industry long enough to qualify for retirement
benefits. Thus, the information the RRB maintains on them is limited to service
and compensation information.
Whenever an application for benefits is filed on the earnings and service of
a railroad employee, the RRB needs to gather information in addition to the
earnings and service information that it already has. The purpose of gathering
the additional information is to establish the applicant's entitlement, and
possibly also, the applicant's continued entitlement to benefits.
- If the application is for retirement benefits, the information will relate
to age, earnings outside the railroad industry, or other benefits awarded or
expected to be awarded.
- If the application is for disability benefits, the information will also
relate to the claimed disability and will include medical evidence in support
of the claim.
- If the application is for benefits to members or former members of the
employee's family (such as spouses, children, widows/widowers, parents, and
divorced spouses), the information will also relate to the relationship of the
applicant to the employee.
- If the application is for unemployment benefits, the information will
relate to the reasons for the applicant's unemployment, periods unemployed,
and efforts made to find work.
- If the application is for sickness benefits, the information will relate
to the disabling condition and the period or periods the applicant claims to
be disabled for work.
Much of the requested information is furnished by the applicant; however,
some information may also be furnished by third parties. Such information may
well be in the nature of "proofs" and evidence.
Whenever an application is first filed for benefits under the Railroad
Retirement Act based on the earnings and service record of a railroad worker, a
claim folder is established for that worker. This claim folder becomes the place
where all paper documents relating to that application and all subsequent
applications under the Railroad Retirement Act are filed. These documents
include the application, supporting proofs, correspondence, award forms
computational worksheets, and computer generated forms produced by the RRB.
No comparable folder is established for applicants for benefits under the
Railroad Unemployment and Insurance Act. That's because less information is
required for determining eligibility for benefits under this act. And also
because the paper documentation is considerably less. Folders are established
only in special cases where the paper documentation requires it.
Included in the category of application/post application information is the
most sensitive information that the RRB maintains on persons in the railroad
community. Information that is highly personal and therefore highly sensitive
includes medical information (particularly where it relates to a mental
condition), information relating to illegitimacy, prior marriages, common-law
marriages, and information regarding personal finances. When there is an
overpayment and the person who is overpaid requests that the overpayment be
waived because of inability to pay, the RRB must obtain detailed financial
information form the requester before making a decision on the request. Almost
without exception, such highly sensitive information is contained in paper
documents that are filed in claim folders.
When a person is found entitled to benefits, the RRB must compute the amount
of the benefits and determine when they begin. Benefit information includes
these two items of information. It also includes the periods for which benefits
were due, when the benefits were paid, and the various amounts of benefits due
and paid over a period of time -- the person's benefit payment history, in other
Unlike the other two types of information, benefit information is created by
the RRB rather than obtained by it.
Information obtained by the RRB in the administration of its major benefit
programs is subject to special disclosure restrictions contained in the Railroad
Retirement Act and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act. These disclosure
restrictions are in addition to those contained in the Privacy Act. They provide
that unless the information is disclosed to another agency engaged in functions
related to those administered by the RRB, it cannot be disclosed unless the RRB
finds that disclosure would be clearly in the furtherance of interest of the
subject or subject's estate.
Because benefit information is created by the RRB rather than obtained by it,
these special disclosure restrictions do not apply to benefit information. Thus,
as a general rule, the RRB is freer to disclose benefit information than the
other two types of information.