[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 171 (Friday, September 2, 2011)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 54700-54703]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-22492]


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SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

20 CFR Part 422

[Docket No. SSA-2011-0052]
RIN 0960-AH35


Protecting the Public and Our Personnel to Ensure Operational 
Effectiveness

AGENCY: Social Security Administration.

ACTION: Interim final rule with request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We are publishing the process we follow when we ban an 
individual from entering our field offices. Due to escalating reports 
of threats to our personnel and our customers in our offices, we are 
taking steps to increase the level of protection we provide. We expect 
that this rule will result in a safer environment for our personnel and 
members of the public who use our facilities, while ensuring that we 
continue to serve the American people with as little disruption to our 
operations as possible.

DATES: Effective Date: This interim final rule is effective September 
2, 2011.
    Comment date: To ensure that your comments are considered, we must 
receive them no later than November 1, 2011.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any one of three methods--
Internet, fax, or mail. Do not submit the same comments multiple times 
or by more than one method. Regardless of which method you choose, 
please state that your comments refer to Docket No. SSA-2011-0052 so 
that we can associate your comments with the correct regulation.
    Caution: You should be careful to include in your comments only 
information that you wish to make publicly available. We strongly urge 
you not to include in your comments any personal information, such as 
SSN or medical information.
    1. Internet: We strongly recommend that you submit your comments 
via the Internet. Please visit the Federal eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov. Use the Search function to find docket number 
SSA-2011-0052. The system will issue a tracking number to confirm your 
submission. You will not be able to view your comment immediately 
because we must post each comment manually. It may take up to a week 
for your comment to be viewable.
    2. Fax: Fax comments to (410) 966-2830.
    3. Mail: Mail your comments to the Office of Regulations, Social 
Security Administration, 107 Altmeyer Building, 6401 Security 
Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401.
    Comments are available for public viewing on the Federal 
eRulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov or in person, during 
regular business hours, by arranging with the contact person identified 
below.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Bill McClelland, Office of Public 
Service and Operations Support, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, 
Maryland 21235-6401, 410-965-8004. For information on eligibility or 
filing for benefits, call our national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 
or TTY 1-800-325-0778, or visit our Internet site, Social Security 
Online, at http://www.socialsecurity.gov.

[[Page 54701]]


SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Preventing violence is a growing concern for all Federal agencies, 
particularly the Social Security Administration. We touch the lives of 
virtually every American, often during times of personal hardship, 
transition, and uncertainty. In fiscal year (FY) 2010, we had 45 
million visits to our field offices, 738,000 hearings before 
administrative law judges, and over 67 million calls to our national 
800 number. Most interactions occur without incident, and 90% of 
visitors responding to our annual surveys rate our service as 
excellent, very good, or good. However, some people who visit or call 
our offices make threatening statements to and against our employees, 
other government employees, members of the public, our guards, and our 
office buildings. Unfortunately, some people go beyond verbal threats 
and physically assault our employees, guards, and members of the 
public.
    As our workloads have risen in recent years, the number of reported 
threats to our employees has increased significantly. In FY 2010, we 
received nearly 2,800 reports of threats to our employees across the 
Nation, an increase of 43% from FY 2009. We respond promptly to these 
incidents and refer them to law enforcement for further action, when 
appropriate. We have increased the security measures in our field and 
hearing offices. We are using the resources Congress provided to handle 
disability benefit claims more quickly and accurately; we expect these 
actions will minimize the anxiety that claimants may experience when 
they seek benefits from us.
    As we work to make our offices safer, we must consider risks to the 
public and our personnel, as well as our service delivery obligations. 
When we deem it necessary, we may ban an individual from entering our 
offices.
    Section 702(a)(4) of the Social Security Act (Act) provides that 
the Commissioner is ``responsible for the exercise of all powers and 
the discharge of all duties of the [agency], and shall have authority 
and control over all personnel and activities thereof.'' The Act also 
authorizes the Commissioner to ``prescribe such rules and regulations 
as [he or she] determines are necessary or appropriate to carry out the 
functions'' of the agency. Section 702(a)(5) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 
902(a)(5). In order to ensure that the agency operates in an effective 
manner, the Commissioner determines the methods for providing service 
to the public and the means for minimizing operational disruptions.
    The Commissioner's authority extends to placing reasonable 
restrictions on an individual's access to in-person services. Courts 
have held that an individual's right of access to Federal property can 
reasonably be limited in the interest of public safety.\1\ In 
developing this final rule, we are balancing an individual's right to 
obtain in-person Social Security services against the threat the 
individual poses to the safety of our personnel and our visitors. When 
balancing these interests, we also consider our obligation to 
effectively administer our programs.\2\
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    \1\ See Downing v. Kunzig, 454 F.2d 1230, 1232 (6th Cir. 1972) 
(noting that, ``federal buildings housing federal courts and other 
governmental agencies are designed to be used strictly for 
governmental purposes. Although members of the public ordinarily 
have free access to such buildings, * * * responsible agencies are 
free to adopt and enforce reasonable rules restricting such public 
use. * * *''); cf. United States v. Cassiagnol, 420 F.2d 868, 875 
(4th Cir. 1970) (``Even where government property is generally open 
to the public, reasonable nondiscriminatory regulation is 
appropriate to prevent interference with the designated and intended 
governmental use thereof.'').
    \2\ See 76 FR 13506.
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    In this final rule, we describe the process we will follow when 
determining whether to ban an individual from our offices. We may ban 
an individual from our offices when he or she: (1) Uses force or 
threats of force against our personnel or offices, including sending 
threatening letters or other communications; (2) engages in disruptive 
conduct that impedes our personnel from performing their duties; or (3) 
engages in disruptive behavior that prevents members of the public from 
obtaining services from us. When we ban an individual, the ban will 
apply to all of our offices nationwide.
    We will ban an individual only after an agency manager determines 
that the individual poses a threat to the safety of our personnel or 
our visitors, our offices, or the operational effectiveness of the 
agency. We will provide the individual with written notice of the ban. 
The notice will contain the following information:
    (a) Type of restriction. If we ban an individual from entering our 
offices, the ban will apply to all of our offices. A banned individual 
must obtain all future service through alternate means. We will provide 
in-person service only if the banned individual establishes that there 
are no alternate means available. A banned individual requesting in-
person service must direct that request to the manager of the office 
that the individual is requesting to visit. If we determine that an 
office visit is warranted, we will schedule an appointment for the 
individual and send a certified letter notifying the individual of the 
date, time, and location of the appointment.
    (b) Prohibited conduct. The notice will provide the banned 
individual with specific details of the prohibited conduct that served 
as the basis for our decision to ban him or her.
    (c) Alternate means of service. The notice will provide information 
about the alternate channels of service available to an individual who 
we have banned.
    1. The individual may use the online services available through our 
Web site at http://www.socialsecurity.gov;
    2. The notice will include the contact information for the 
individual's local office. The individual may call the local office and 
ask to speak with the office manager or a supervisor;
    3. The individual may call our national toll-free number at 1-800-
772-1213 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. 
The individual should not try to schedule an in-person appointment 
through this number. If the individual is deaf or hard of hearing, he 
or she may call our toll-free TTY number at 1-800-325-0778;
    4. The individual may write to the local office. An individual 
restricted from receiving in-person services from our personnel should 
address all correspondence to the attention of the office manager; or
    5. With the written consent of the banned individual, another 
person may call, write, or visit us on his or her behalf.
    (d) Appeal rights. A banned individual may appeal our 
determination. A banned individual must submit his or her appeal in 
writing to the address identified in the notice within 60 days of the 
date of the notice. The appeal should identify the individual's name, 
address, Social Security number, and the office that issued the ban 
notice. The appeal should clearly state why we should reconsider the 
ban determination and provide any supporting documentation. We may 
allow an additional 10 days for the late filing of an appeal if the 
individual shows good cause for the late filing. The ban will remain in 
effect while the appeal is pending. We will provide written notice of 
the appeal decision.
    (e) Periodic request for review of ban decision. A banned 
individual may request review of our ban decision every three years. 
The three-year cycle to request review will begin on the date we issued 
the notice of the ban, or if the individual appealed, the date of our

[[Page 54702]]

appeal decision. The individual must submit a request for review of a 
ban decision in writing to the address identified in the original 
notice of the ban. The request for review should identify the 
individual's name, address, Social Security number, and office that 
issued the ban notice. The request should clearly state why we should 
lift the ban and provide relevant documentation that supports removal 
of the restriction, including, medical documentation, applicable 
psychiatric evaluations, work history, and any criminal record. The 
banned individual must prove by a preponderance of the evidence 
(meaning that it is more likely than not) that he or she no longer 
poses a threat to the safety of our personnel, visitors, offices, or 
the operational effectiveness of the agency. We will notify the 
individual of our decision in writing.
    We will post this regulation in a conspicuous place in our offices 
that serve the public.

Clarity of This Rule

    Executive Order 12866, as supplemented by Executive Order 13563, 
requires each agency to write all rules in plain language. In addition 
to your substantive comments on this final rule, we invite your 
comments on how to make rules easier to understand.
    For example:
     Would more, but shorter, sections be better?
     Are the requirements in the rule clearly stated?
     Have we organized the material to suit your needs?
     Could we improve clarity by adding tables, lists, or 
diagrams?
     What else could we do to make the rule easier to 
understand?
     Does the rule contain technical language or jargon that is 
not clear?
     Would a different format make the rule easier to 
understand, e.g. grouping and order of sections, use of headings, 
paragraphing?

When will we start to use this rule?

    We will start to use this interim final rule on the date shown 
under the ``Effective Date'' section earlier in this preamble. However, 
we are also inviting public comments on the changes made by this rule. 
We will consider any relevant comments we receive, plan to publish 
another final rules document to respond to any such comments we 
receive, and will make any changes to the rules as appropriate based on 
the comments.

Regulatory Procedures

Justification for Issuing Final Rule Without Notice and Comment

    We follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) rulemaking 
procedures specified in 5 U.S.C. 553 when developing regulations. See 
Section 702(a)(5) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 902(a)(5). 
Generally, the APA requires that an agency provide prior notice and 
opportunity for public comment before issuing an interim final rule. 
The APA provides exceptions to its notice and public comment procedures 
when an agency finds there is good cause for dispensing with such 
procedures because they are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to 
the public interest. We have determined that good cause exists for 
dispensing with the notice and public comment procedures for this rule. 
5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B).
    As we noted above, the number of reported threats to our personnel 
and property has risen dramatically in recent years. In light of this 
increase, we believe we must take immediate action to implement this 
final rule as quickly as possible. The changes we are making in this 
final rule will increase our ability to protect our claimants, 
personnel, and other visitors to our offices, while at the same time 
fulfilling our mission to serve the American people. Accordingly, we 
find that prior public comment would be contrary to the public 
interest. However, we are inviting public comment on this final rule 
and will consider any substantive comments we receive within 60 days of 
the publication of this final rule.
    In addition, for the reasons cited above, we also find good cause 
for dispensing with the 30-day delay in the effective date of this rule 
provided for in 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3). Accordingly, we are making this 
interim final rule effective upon publication.

Executive Order 12866 As Supplemented by Executive Order 13563

    We consulted with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and 
determined that this interim final rule met the criteria for a 
significant regulatory action under Executive Order 12866 as 
supplemented by Executive Order 13563. Thus, OMB reviewed the final 
rule.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    We certify that this final rule will not have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities because they 
affect individuals only. Therefore, a regulatory flexibility analysis 
is not required under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, as amended.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This rule does not create any new or affect any existing 
collections and, therefore, does not require OMB approval under the 
Paperwork Reduction Act.

(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Program Nos. 96.001, Social 
Security--Disability Insurance; 96.002, Social Security--Retirement 
Insurance; 96.004, Social Security--Survivors Insurance; and 96.006, 
Supplemental Security Income)

List of Subjects in 20 CFR Part 422

    Administrative practice and procedure, Organization and functions 
(Government agencies), Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Social 
security.

Michael J. Astrue,
Commissioner of Social Security.
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, we amend part 422 of 
chapter III of title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations as set forth 
below:

PART 422--ORGANIZATION AND PROCEDURES

0
1. Add and reserve subpart I.
0
2. Add subpart J to Part 422 to read as follows:

Subpart J--Protecting the Public and Our Personnel To Ensure 
Operational Effectiveness

Sec.
422.901 Scope and purpose.
422.902 Definition of personnel for purposes of this subpart.
422.903 Prohibited conduct.
422.904 Notice of the ban.
422.905 Appeal rights.
422.906 Periodic request for review of ban decision.
422.907 Posting requirement.

Subpart J--Protecting the Public and Our Personnel To Ensure 
Operational Effectiveness

    Authority: Sec. 702(a)(4)-(5) of the Social Security Act (42 
U.S.C. 902(a)(4)-(5)).

Sec.  422.901  Scope and purpose.

    The regulations in this subpart describe the process we will follow 
when we decide whether to ban you from entering our offices. Due to 
increasing reports of threats to our personnel and the public, we are 
taking steps to increase the level of protection we provide to our 
personnel and to the public. The purpose of this subpart is to inform 
the public and our personnel of

[[Page 54703]]

the conduct that will subject an individual to a ban and the procedures 
we will follow when banning an individual from entering our offices. We 
expect that the regulations will result in a safer environment for our 
personnel and the public who visit our facilities, while ensuring that 
our personnel can continue to serve the American people with as little 
disruption to our operations as possible.


Sec.  422.902  Definition of personnel for purposes of this subpart.

    We will construe the term ``personnel'' broadly to mean persons 
responsible for or engaged in carrying out the responsibilities, 
programs, or services of or on behalf of the agency. Personnel 
includes, but is not limited to, our employees, contractors, 
consultants, and examiners and State disability determination services 
(DDS) employees, contractors, consultants, and examiners.


Sec.  422.903  Prohibited conduct.

    We will ban you from entering our offices if you:
    (a) Physically or verbally assault our personnel or a member of the 
public in our occupied space;
    (b) Use force or threats of force against our personnel or offices, 
including but not limited to communicating threats in person or by 
phone, facsimile, mail, or electronic mail;
    (c) Engage in disruptive conduct that impedes our personnel from 
performing their duties; or
    (d) Engage in disruptive conduct that impedes members of the public 
from obtaining services from our personnel.


Sec.  422.904  Notice of the ban.

    If an agency manager makes a decision in writing that you pose a 
threat to the safety of our personnel, visitors, office, or the 
operational effectiveness of the agency, we will send you a notice 
banning you from our offices. The notice will contain the following 
information:
    (a) Type of restriction. If we ban you from entering our offices, 
the ban will apply to all of our offices, and you must obtain all 
future service through alternate means. We will provide you in-person 
service only if you establish that there are no alternate means 
available. You must direct your request for in-person service to the 
manager of the office you are requesting to visit. If we determine that 
an office visit is warranted, we will schedule an appointment for you 
and send you a certified letter notifying you of the date, time, and 
location of the appointment.
    (b) Prohibited conduct. We will provide you with specific details 
of the prohibited conduct that served as the basis for our decision to 
ban you.
    (c) Alternate means of service. If you are banned from entering our 
offices, you still have several means to receive services:
    (1) You may use the online services available through our Web site 
at  http://www.socialsecurity.gov;
    (2) You may call your local office. Your notice will include the 
contact information for your local office. You should ask to speak with 
the office manager or a supervisor;
    (3) You may call our national toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 
between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. You 
should not attempt to schedule an in-person appointment through this 
number. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our toll-free 
TTY number at 1-800-325-0778;
    (4) You may write to your local office. You should address all 
correspondence to the attention of the office manager;
    (5) With your written consent, another person may call, write, or 
visit us to conduct business on your behalf.
    (d) Appeal rights. The notice will provide you with information on 
how to appeal the ban.
    (e) Periodic request for review of ban decision. The notice will 
provide you with information on how to request review of the ban 
determination every three years from the date of the ban notice, or if 
you appeal the ban, the date of the appeal decision.


Sec.  422.905  Appeal rights.

    You may appeal our decision to ban you. You must submit your appeal 
in writing to the address identified in the notice within 60 days of 
the date of the notice. You should identify your name, address, Social 
Security number, and the office that issued the notice of the ban. The 
appeal should clearly state why we should reconsider our decision and 
provide any supporting documentation. We may allow an additional 10 
days for the late filing of an appeal if you show good cause for the 
late filing. The ban will remain in effect while the appeal is pending. 
We will notify you of our decision in writing.


Sec.  422.906  Periodic request for review of ban decision.

    You may request review of our ban decision every three years. The 
three-year cycle to request review will begin on the date we issued 
notice of the ban, or if you appealed, the date of our appeal decision. 
You must submit your request for review of a ban decision in writing to 
the address identified in the original notice of the ban. Your request 
for review should identify your name, address, Social Security number, 
and office that issued the notice of the ban. Your request should 
clearly state why we should lift the ban and provide relevant 
documentation that supports removal of the restriction, including 
medical documentation, applicable psychiatric evaluations, work 
history, and any criminal record. You must prove by a preponderance of 
the evidence (meaning that it is more likely than not) that you no 
longer pose a threat to the safety of our personnel or visitors or the 
operational effectiveness of the agency. We will notify you of our 
decision in writing.


Sec.  422.907  Posting requirement.

    We will post the regulation in this subpart in a conspicuous place 
in our offices that serve the public.

[FR Doc. 2011-22492 Filed 9-1-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4191-02-P