WASHINGTON – The Social Security Administration wants to do more than cut off benefits to felons — it wants to help arrest them.
The Office of Inspector General Fugitive Felon Project grew out of a provision in last year’s welfare reform law that requires Social Security to share information about fugitives with law enforcement agencies.
The new plan would go one step further than simply cutting off benefits and sharing information. It commits the Social Security Administration to “assist in the location and arrest” of fugitive felons by deceiving and collecting intelligence on them.
“We’re supposed to set them up,” said Charlie Estudillo, a Social Security employee and negotiator for the American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, which opposes the plan.
Under the Fugitive Felon Project, the agency’s Inspector General will compile lists of warrants that can be compared to Social Security rolls. Felons and fugitives receiving government payments would be dropped.
If a felon called a Social Security field office to ask why his benefits stopped, the employee who took his call would “obtain the recipient’s current location and a way to contact him/her.”
Social Security would turn that information over to law enforcement authorities who could then catch the fugitive.
Administration spokesman John Trollenger said law enforcement agencies helped the inspector general develop the plan, but he could not identify them.
Estudillo worries that fugitives will make the connection between their call to the Social Security office and their arrest.
“What we fear is that when we partake in a law enforcement operations … we subject our public and employees to the likelihood of retaliations,” he said.
The plan also includes details on how to help apprehend a fugitive who insists on coming to the field office in person.
“This brings Social Security employees squarely into the area of law enforcement,” said Estudillo.
The union has taken the matter to arbitration, temporarily blocking the agency from putting the plan into effect.
However, the administration is ready to put this plan in place “very quickly” once the union dispute is settled, said Trollenger.
Trollenger acknowledged that safety could be a concern. But since Social Security employees’ contact with fugitives will usually be over the phone, he said there was not an unusual amount of risk.
Of Maryland’s 24 Social Security field offices, only the one in Salisbury does not have some sort of security detail.