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Social Security Administration explains ammunition purchase

The Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of Inspector General’s new Web blog on Aug. 16 sought to defuse news reports about its plans to purchase substantial amounts of handgun ammunition.

Reports in conservative news sites the week of Aug. 13 highlighted the SSA’s request for pricing quotes for 174,000 rounds of .357 Duty Carry Sig 125 grain bonded JHP hollow point bullet ammunition. The agency posted its request on Aug. 7 at the FedBizOps.gov Website, which led to media speculation about why the agency wanted so much hollow point ammunition.

The SSA’s OIG said the ammunition procurement follows all federal rules for ammunition purchases and will be used by its 295 special agents and supervisory special agents who work in its 66 field offices throughout the country. Those agents, said the OIG’s “Beyond the Numbers” blog, are charged with full law enforcement duties, including executing warrants and making arrests when laws governing its programs are violated.

“Our investigators are similar to your State or local police officers. They use traditional investigative techniques, and they are armed when on official duty,” it said.

In another post on the blog, the agency said in the first six months of Fiscal 2012, its agents closed 3,804 investigations—about 16 investigations per agent. Most of those, it said, involved disability payment fraud. 

News reports questioned why the agency needed hollow point ammunition, which can cause more damage than regular bullets.

“Media reports expressed concerns over the type of ammunition ordered. In fact, this type of ammunition is standard issue for many law enforcement agencies,” said the OIG. “OIG’s special agents use this ammunition during their mandatory quarterly firearms qualifications and other training sessions, to ensure agent and public safety. Additionally, the ammunition our agents use is the same type used at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.”

The agency emphasized that its agents needed to be armed and trained to handle not only investigations of security fraud, but to respond to threats against Social Security Offices, employees and customers.

Threats against federal agencies are not uncommon. The SSA’s office in Ft. Smith, AR was shut down briefly after it received a threat on July 31, for instance. The head of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration estimated in 2010 that his office handled more than 1,200 threat and assault case referrals from the Internal Revenue Service between 2001 and 2008.

The OIG said protecting its facilities and personnel is critical because the SSA is processing more applications than ever, meaning more traffic in its offices. “Employee and visitor safety is the highest priority for OIG, which, together with the Federal Protective Services and local law enforcement, has jurisdiction over SSA workplaces.”