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Get used to bureaucrats bearing firearms.

The U.S. Department of Education made headlines recently for sending a team of armed agents to execute a search warrant on a Stockton, Calif., man's home in a criminal investigation involving financial aid fraud.

Kenneth Wright was removed from the house in his boxer shorts and handcuffed. His three children were placed in a squad car while agents searched for information regarding his estranged wife, who didn't even live there.

Seemed like heavy-handed behavior for an agency that exists primarily to cultivate a nation of bookworms. But the Department of Education's having at its disposal what amounts to a SWAT team is just one of the vagaries of post-9/11 society.

Believe it or not, Education is one of more than two dozen federal agencies that were granted police powers in a little-known provision of the Homeland Security Act.

Through their respective Offices of Inspector General, these agencies' agents can carry guns and make arrests. The only things that significantly differentiate them from FBI agents is their distaste for stakeouts and their fondness for pocket protectors.

It might initially seem extreme, silly and eerily Orwellian for a bunch of bureaucratic bodies to have police powers. Asked to think of a valid reason why anyone affiliated with the Small Business Administration should be armed, I believe most people would be stumped.

Still, there are numerous circumstances under which the employees of many federal agencies could be compelled to unholster their weapons. A few examples:

Department of Health & Human Services

Purpose: Ensuring the physical well-being of Americans.

Agents draw weapons: When restaurant employees don't thoroughly wash their hands after using the restroom. "Right back in there, slob - and don't forget to use soap this time!"

Office of Personnel Management

Purpose: Recruits and trains the federal work force.

Agents draw weapons: When the person using the printer fails to replace the toner when it runs out. "Hands on the cartridge now, scum!"

Department of Agriculture

Purpose: Oversees the cultivation of land, raising of crops, breeding of livestock.

Agents draw weapons: When farmers turn bad. "Get down in the dirt, Farmer Jones! Think we didn't notice you jeopardizing this year's corn crop by cutting corners on your irrigation system?"

Tennessee Valley Authority

Purpose: Federally owned corporation provides electricity for 9 million people in parts of seven Southeastern states.

Agents draw weapons: When electric bills are delinquent. "Swallow the barrel, punk! Now you're going to see what happens to people who don't pay for all of their kilowatt hours."

Social Security Administration

Purpose: To administer retirement, disability and survivor benefits.

Agents draw weapons: To keep angry seniors at bay when the agency finally runs out of money in a few years. "Back off, gummer! It doesn't matter how much you paid into the system before you retired. No cash for you!