Social Security: Issuing checks & hollow–points
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted September 10, 2012
Some of the more excitable members of the conservative Internet commentariat sounded battle stations when they learned the Social Security Administration (SSA) wanted to buy 174,000 hollow–point bullets.
Had granny decided she was not going passively the next time Paul Ryan tried to shove her off a cliff? Were irate seniors busy sharpening the legs on their walkers in preparation for the coming conflict over paying for Social Security?
The Infowars.com website speculated, "It's not outlandish to suggest that the Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest." And the Daily Caller added the rounds have to be intended for domestic use, "since the SSA has never been used overseas to help foreign countries maintain control of their citizens."
Which only makes sense when one considers how few foreigners are Social Security recipients, to say nothing of the lack of overseas Social Security offices.
Seeking to allay our fears, the SSA explained the ammunition was for the use of agents in the office of the inspector general that investigate Social Security fraud and other crimes.
That answered the "whom" but failed to address the "why." The previously alarmed still wanted to know why the SSA was ordering hollow–points, which are bullets designed to expand upon contact with the human body, consequently doing more damage to the target.
The answer was for safety reasons — the bystander's, not the target's. As a hollow–point expands it loses velocity, so those rounds tend to remain inside the target. Military, or full–metal jacket rounds, don't expand as much and consequently a military round is liable to pass through the target's body and bury itself in a bystander.
For conservatives this firepower controversy is only a distraction. The real issue at hand is why does the SSA have a police force in the first place?
Bureaucrats have an answer already prepared. These agents "need to be armed and trained appropriately. They not only investigate allegations of Social Security fraud, but they also are called to respond to threats against Social Security offices, employees, and customers," explained an official web post.
But let's look at the numbers. There are 295 agents working in 66 different offices that made a grand total of 589 arrests last year according to the Washington Post.
It works out to less than two arrests per year, per agent. That's hardly a punishing level of enforcement and it compares poorly with the nationwide average of 21 arrests per year for police officers. And it certainly does not justify the cost of duplicating existing federal law enforcement capability.
A better question is why does the SSA have its own police force when the U.S. Marshals Service is fully capable of making the SSA's paltry 589 arrests?
This is why the US has a trillion dollar debt, a bloated, mismanaged government and conservatives who despair of ever reducing its size. Empire–building bureaucrats duplicate services and programs and a compliant Congress sends us the bill.
Besides it's just possible that if the Marshals Service had a few more warrants to serve they would occupy themselves with productive endeavours and not have time to cost victims money in the real estate market, as events in Manassas, VA demonstrate. There the service has just presided over the second auction of the old Post Office building that was seized as part of the assets in a fraud case.
Proceeds from the sale of the building are to go to victims who lost money. The first auction was held in April and attracted a bid of $385,000 that was accepted by the auctioneer. Anyone who has ever placed a bid for stolen electronics on eBay knows that means the bidder now owns the Post Office! Except the normal rules of the marketplace don't apply to the government, which neither understands nor encourages a truly free market.
The feds make their own rules.
So the Marshals Service rejected the winning bid, because explained the spokesperson, "We felt it was too low." Any real estate agent worth his photo featuring calling cards will tell you a property is worth what someone will pay for it, not what some bureaucrat thinks looks better in the news release announcing the distribution of the money.
The bidders, bless their hearts, increased their offer to $400,000, a sum that was also rejected. And there the situation stood until last month when another auction was held and guess what? This time the winning bid was $355,000.
Assuming this bid is accepted, the Marshals Service's marketplace ignorance will have only cost the intended recipients of the proceeds $45,000. Unless the Marshals Service intends to hold out for an even lower bid.
But this mistake is consequence–free for the Marshals, just as building an unnecessary police force only enhances the organization chart at the SSA. In the first instance it only costs taxpayers and in the second only tax dollars. And what bureaucrat cares about either?
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.