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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 03/20/2010

The dangerous job of DOE's special agents

By Valerie Strauss

How dangerous can an assignment be for an Education Department special agent?

Pretty hazardous, a department spokeswoman said. That’s why the special agents carry guns.

We learned in the past week that the department’s Office of Inspector General employs 100 special agents who each carry a 40-caliber Glock pistol during their regular duties. In addition, the office maintains an arsenal of 52 shotguns for high-risk assignments.

The OIG is the law-enforcement arm of the Education Department, responsible for detecting waste, fraud, abuse and other criminal activity involving federal education funds, programs and operations.

Special agents’ routine law enforcement duties include interrogating criminal suspects, surveilling criminal suspects, and escorting witnesses.

High-risk law enforcement activities include making arrests, executing search warrants, undercover operations. And some of the warrants involve multiple subjects with a history of violence (homicides, serious assaults), weapons possession, gang members, and individuals with ties to organized crime.

For example:

*In 2008, OIG special agents discovered that a man who had stolen the identities of others to fraudulently obtain federal student aid funds was an escaped murderer who had been sentenced to 27 years in prison for murder and other crimes in Puerto Rico.

*In 2004, a man with suspected ties to a Russian organized crime syndicate was sentenced as a result of an OIG investigation into the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal student aid involving a proprietary school he owned and another school with which he had connections. This investigation found that the man also stole more than $1 million from other federal programs.

*In 2004, OIG efforts led to the unraveling of a scheme involving members of a gang involved in drugs, extortion, arson, and racketeering who had stolen federal education funds from a charter school in Philadelphia they operated as well as from the Community College of Philadelphia.

OIG special agents execute between 18-40 search warrants and dozens of arrest warrants each year, along with other high-risk activities such as surveillance and undercover operations.

In some instances, suspects have threatened agents with violence, but the education department said it could not provide details.

No Education Department agent has discharged a firearm in the line of duty. (But the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General lost one of its special agents in 2006, during the execution of an arrest warrant when one of six prison guards who had been indicted opened fire.)

You can find lists by year of the many fraud and other investigations in which agents were involved at the department’s website here.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 20, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan  | Tags:  Education Department, guns  
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