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Federal agencies explain 'arsenals'

| Friday, Aug. 17, 2012, 10:06 p.m.
The Social Security Administration plans to buy 174,000 hollow-point bullets like those shown here for offices nationwide, including 2,000 rounds in Pittsburgh, according to federal purchase requests. File photo

At least three federal agencies are buying bullets — by the tens of thousands to the millions, in fact — and conspiracy theorists are asking why.

The Social Security Administration plans to buy 174,000 hollow-point bullets for offices nationwide, including 2,000 rounds in Pittsburgh, according to federal purchase requests.

Two other government departments issued similar orders — 46,000 rounds at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and 450 million rounds at the Department of Homeland Security.

The agencies confirmed the purchases but sought to deflate the insurrection-fearing speculation that lit up several popular government-suspicious websites, where skeptics this week questioned the need for so much — and such destructive — ammunition in bureaucratic hands. One site — www.infowars.com — asks whether the government might be: “Preparing for civil unrest?”“It's a very routine procurement that we do every fiscal year,” mostly for training for armed enforcement agents, said Tracy Lynge, a spokeswoman with the Social Security Administration. “Somebody noticed it this year.”

Government Logistics Solutions, a Maryland company that supplied the administration in 2010, could not be reached. A2Z Supply, a Montana company that had a large ammunition contract in 2011, declined to comment.

Lynge said the Social Security Administration bought about the same amount of ammunition each of the past 15 years, supplying armed special agents who investigate Social Security fraud and help safeguard administration employees. Two of the 290 agents nationwide are based in Pittsburgh.

Most of the administration's ammunition goes for training because agents must meet firearms qualifications four times a year, Lynge said.

Hollow-point bullets are a standard among federal agencies, Lynge said. More expensive than traditional ammunition, the bullets are designed to expand and do more damage when they strike flesh and bone.

Hollow-point bullets also reduce the risk of collateral damage because officers can take down dangerous targets with fewer shots, said Steven Howard, a former federal agent and private attorney in Lansing, Mich.

“You should always practice with what you're going to use in real life,” said Howard, an independent weapons expert and expert witness in court cases.

Another security professional, Edward Clark, said he sees nothing unusual in the ammunition volumes that federal agencies sought.

“They're professional law-enforcement officers, so it's not unusual for them to have that ammunition to carry and to train with,” said Clark, a retired federal special-forces officer in Missouri and president of Executive Interface, a risk-management group.

At NOAA, 63 enforcement personnel will use the ammunition to meet firearms qualifications and for training, spokesman Scott Smullen said.

“NOAA officers and agents enforce the nation's ocean and fishing laws to ensure a level playing field for fishermen and to protect marine species like whales, dolphins and turtles,” Smullen wrote in an email.

NOAA enforcement officers undergo twice-yearly training that requires 500 to 600 rounds. As for the Homeland Security request, spokesman Matthew Chandler said the 450-million-round order will cover five years and most departmental needs. The department includes the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, where most federal officers and agents receive training.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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