U.S. Secret Service spending to provide security for the lavish and far-flung travel of President Trump and his family – including Trump’s now almost weekly trips to his Florida resort for presidential consultations and golf – has gotten so out of hand that the agency recently requested a $60 million increase in its budget for the coming year.
But The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the request was turned down by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), headed by director Mick Mulvaney. The Secret Service was told to try to find the money through savings in other areas of its budget.
The request, contained in internal agency documents obtained by the newspaper, was an urgent plea for more resources after Trump and his family’s travel and lifestyle had begun to stretch the Secret Services resources to the limits.
Nearly half of the additional money that was sought in the fiscal 2018 budget request – or $26.8 million – was to be used to pay to protect Trump’s family and private home in New York’s Trump Tower. The remaining $33 million was for security related to travel incurred by “the president, vice president and other visiting heads of state.”
First lady Melania Trump and her young son, Barron, live in the family’s three-floor Manhattan penthouse, while Trump largely divides his time between the White House during the week and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on weekends. Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago last Friday for his fifth post-inauguration weekend trip, just a day after OMB issued a federal budget proposal for the coming year seeking $54 billion in cuts in many government programs and agencies to offset the cost of a major military buildup.
The government spent an estimated $10 million on Trump’s first three trips to Mar-a-Lago in late January and February, according to a recent investigation by The Washington Post. At that rate, travel and security for Trump and his family could run up hundreds of millions in costs by the end of his term.
Trump’s adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., travel extensively overseas in running the family business and they receive round-the-clock Secret Service protection. Eric Trump’s trip to Uruguay in January to check on the progress of a Trump hotel reportedly cost taxpayers nearly $98,000 for agents’ hotel rooms.
At the same time, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, serve as senior advisers to the president, and they and their children are also afforded Secret Service protection.
Ironically, Trump more than once criticized the cost of President Obama’s travel, saying it was “unbelievable” that Obama’s trips were “costing taxpayers millions of dollars.”
He vowed during the campaign to save the public money by working tirelessly in Washington and skipping extraneous or overly expensive trips. Since then, First Family travel and leisure has been taxing Secret Service resources. And that, over time, could degrade the quality of protection for the commander in chief.
The Secret Service acknowledged last Friday that a 26-year-old California man with a history of mental illness who breached White House security March 10 remained on the White House grounds for more than 15 minutes before Secret Service agents detected and arrested him. Trump was in the executive mansion at the time of the incident, and the man never got close to him.
That was only the latest in a series of potentially disastrous mishaps dating back years. In 2014, for example, an intruder with a knife managed to slip into the White House before he was tackled by an off-duty agent in the East Room.
The Secret Service’s latest budget request for 2018 operations is being kept under wraps, but the agency requested $734 million for its fiscal 2017 operations and support activities. The Post quoted a person familiar with Secret Service budget discussions as saying the request for $60 million of additional funding was submitted in late February, before being turned down as excessive.
“That means the agency will likely have to divert other spending to handle the additional burden,” the newspaper reported. The agency plays other vital roles besides protecting the president and his family, including investigating cyber crimes, ferreting out counterfeit money operations and cases involving missing and exploited minors.
The Secret Service’s annual budget last year was $2.2 billion, or 3.2 percent of the Department of Homeland Security’s overall $66.8 billion in spending. The agency, with wide ranging responsibilities, employs about 6,700 full-time equivalent workers, including about 3,000 agents. Salaries are better than average, and agent working long, grueling hours and traveling overseas are entitled to overtime, to a point.
Last October, USA Today reported that at least 1,000 Secret Service agents, or about a third of the agent workforce, had already maxed out on annual overtime and salary allowance because of the extraordinary demands of providing protection to Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton and other presidential candidates. Some of the agency’s most senior agents reached their combined compensation limits of $160,300 a year as early as last June, according to the report.