Explaining Our Law Enforcement Authority, Again

Beyond the Numbers

Thursday, October 9, 2014
Posted by: 
The Office of External Relations

“While conducting a witness interview with a lady, she pulled a gun…She refused to put the weapon down, and I was forced to draw my weapon. Eventually the situation was defused and was resolved without further incident. In another incident…we were conducting a witness/victim interview when a family member became irate and threatened to go get his gun…We took control of the situation, and as it turns out, the individual had a weapon on the front seat of his vehicle.”

                                                            --SSA OIG Special Agent, Richmond, Virginia


Most people have no idea that Social Security has armed Federal agents who investigate Social Security fraud—as well as other crimes that overlap with that jurisdiction. In New York City, SSA OIG special agents helped respond to and investigate the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In Kentucky, SSA OIG special agents tracked a gunman as he fled into the woods after shooting a Social Security employee. And in Virginia, an SSA OIG special agent investigated a woman for the premeditated murder of a husband and a boyfriend (she went to prison for life).

We sometimes hear from reporters, public citizens, and even Members of Congress who may not understand why SSA employs criminal investigators (also called special agents). That’s why we thought we should blog about it—again. It is certainly true that the FBI does important work, and so does the United States Marshals’ Service. But neither of those agencies has a large enough law enforcement capacity to pursue those committing crimes against the full range of Federal Government agencies, programs, and billions of dollars in taxpayer funds. Neither can the FBI or U.S. Marshals have expertise in Social Security, VA, HUD, or other complex Federal programs that special agents in those agencies’ OIGs quickly acquire, so they can determine if program fraud has occurred.       

In August 2012, a news website—and eventually many other media outlets—questioned our purchase of firearms ammunition and why we needed weapons at Social Security.  So, we blogged about our Federal law enforcement authority, which gives us a mandate to investigate Federal crimes involving Social Security programs and benefits. Our law enforcement authority may not be well known, but it allows us to protect—and recover—your tax dollars to help ensure that they will be available to you when you need them. Our special agents also help inspire confidence in the integrity of Federal programs, deterring people from trying to defraud them and pursue those who do.

Our law enforcement authority used to be delegated to us—and many other Federal OIGs—by the Attorney General at the Department of Justice, under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended. But more than a decade ago, we were given statutory law enforcement authority under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as part of the Congress’ efforts, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to strengthen Federal agencies’ ability to investigate crimes under their jurisdiction.

As we stated two years ago in our blog post about our ammunition purchase—and the Inspector General’s subsequent congressional testimony—our nearly 300 armed special agents nationwide investigate serious crimes, participate in fugitive and terrorism task forces, make  arrests, and execute warrants. To ensure the daily safety of our agents, we are committed to extensively training them in the proper use of not only firearms but other weapons and defensive tactics. Every Federal law enforcement officer undergoes mandated quarterly firearms qualifications and other training required by law and regulation.

We hold in the highest regard our mission to protect not only Social Security for those who need it, but also to protect our agents, Social Security employees, and the general public from those who would do them harm. As the same special agent we quoted above also told us, “We are a unique agency; we knock on more doors than any other OIG. Dealing with people from all walks of life can be very dangerous…[Federal law enforcement] agents need to be in a position where they can protect themselves and others.”

We couldn’t agree more.