With threats against its employees on the rise, the Social Security Administration is tweaking a policy that bans people from visiting the agency’s field offices if they make threats against its workers or buildings..
The agency’s ban applies to anyone who makes threats in person, over the phone or in writing, or who causes disruptions to employees and visitors in its offices. Those who make threats must seek services online or by phone.
The policy change, published last week, permits people banned from offices to appeal the decision and select someone to visit the agency on their behalf, if necessary. The change is scheduled to go into effect after Nov. 1.
SSA field offices recorded more than 45 million visits in fiscal 2010 and hosted more than 738,000 hearings before administrative law judges, according to the agency. Although 90 percent of visitors rated the agency’s services as excellent, the SSA said, it regularly receives threats against its workers, other federal employees, visitors, and the agency’s security guards and office buildings.
Threats against SSA workers jumped 43 percent, to nearly 2,800, in fiscal 2010 from the previous year, and the increase is consistent with growing threats against federal workers, lawmakers and federal court personnel.
Witold Skwierczynski, president of AFGE Council 220, which represents SSA workers, also said threats are on the rise.
In fiscal 2010, the agency received 65 bomb threats, 56 reports of suspicious packages at its offices and 82 reports of assaults against its workers. Security guards or agency personnel found 211 concealed weapons on visitors in 2010, he said.
In each case, the numbers are up considerably from 2007, Skwierczynski said, and “we feel that there are probably many, many other incidents that aren’t reported.”
Across the federal government, the Justice Department charged 352 defendants with killing, assaulting or threatening federal employees in fiscal 2010, up slightly from the previous year. Although threats against lawmakers have generally leveled off, threats against federal judges and personnel have more than doubled in recent years.
The SSA posts warnings in its offices about potential bans on individuals. People who are banned are informed in writing and reminded that they can visit the agency’s Web site or call its toll-free number, 800-772-1213, for assistance.