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Donald Trump

US Secret Service running out of money to pay agents because of Trump’s frequent travel and large family

Security costs have soared under Trump, whose visits to Mar-a-Lago cost US$3m each, with the Secret Service spending US$60,000 on golf cart rentals alone this year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 2:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 10:24pm

The US Secret Service can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective mission – in large part due to the sheer size of US President Donald Trump’s family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences.

Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles, said more than 1,000 agents have already hit caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year.

The agency has faced a crushing workload since the height of the contentious election season, and it has not relented in the first seven months of the administration. Agents must protect Trump – who has travelled almost every weekend to his properties in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia – and his adult children whose business trips and vacations have taken them across the country and overseas.

“The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law,” Alles said. “I can’t change that. I have no flexibility.”

Alles said the service is grappling with an unprecedented number of White House protectees. Under Trump, 42 people have protection, a number that includes 18 members of his family. That’s up from 31 during the Obama administration.

The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law
Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles

Overwork and constant travel have also been driving a recent exodus from the Secret Service ranks, yet without congressional intervention to provide additional funding, Alles will not even be able to pay agents for the work they have already done.

The compensation crunch is so serious that the director has begun discussions with key lawmakers to raise the combined salary and overtime cap for agents, from US$160,000 per year to US$187,000 for at least the duration of Trump’s first term.

But even if such a proposal was approved, about 130 veteran agents would not be fully compensated for hundreds of hours already amassed, according to the agency.

“I don’t see this changing in the near term,’’ Alles said.

While about 800 agents and uniformed officers were hired during the past year as part of an ongoing recruiting blitz to bolster the ranks, attrition limited the agency’s net staffing gain to 300, according to agency records. And last year, Congress had to approve a one-time fix to ensure that 1,400 agents would be compensated for thousands of hours of overtime earned above compensation limits.

“It is clear that the Secret Service’s demands will continue to be higher than ever throughout the Trump administration,’’ said Jennifer Werner, a spokesperson for Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings.

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who was the first lawmaker to sound the alarm after last year’s disclosure that hundreds of agents had maxed out on pay, recently spoke with Alles and pledged support for a more permanent fix, Werner said.

“We cannot expect the Secret Service to be able to recruit and keep the best of the best if they are not being paid for these increases (in overtime hours).”

Officials had hoped that the agency’s workload would normalise after the inauguration, but the president’s frequent weekend trips, his family’s business travel and the higher number of protectees has made that impossible.

Since his inauguration, Trump has taken seven trips to his estate in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, travelled to his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club five times and returned to Trump Tower in Manhattan once.

Trump’s frequent visits to his “winter White House” in Florida and “summer White House” in New Jersey are especially challenging for the agency, which must maintain a regular security infrastructure at each – while still allowing access to paying members and guests.

Always costly in manpower and equipment, the president’s jaunts to Mar-a-Lago are estimated to cost at least US$3 million each, based on a General Accounting Office estimate for similar travel by former President Obama. The Secret Service has spent some US$60,000 on golf cart rentals alone this year to protect Trump at both Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster.

The president, First Lady Melania Trump and the couple’s youngest son Barron – who maintained a separate detail in Trump Tower until June – aren’t the only ones on the move with full-time security details in tow.

Trump’s other sons, Trump Organization executives Donald Jnr and Eric, based in New York, also are covered by security details, including when they travel frequently to promote Trump-branded properties in other countries.

For instance, earlier this year, Eric Trump’s business travel to Uruguay cost the Secret Service nearly US$100,000 just for hotel rooms. Other trips included the United Kingdom and the Dominican Republic. In February, both sons and their security details travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the opening of new Trump hotel there, and to Dubai to officially open a Trump International Golf Club.

In March, security details accompanied part of the family, including Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner on a skiing vacation in Aspen, Colorado. Even Tiffany Trump, the president’s lower-profile younger daughter, took vacations with her boyfriend to international locales such as Germany and Hungary, which also require Secret Service protection.

The Los Angeles Times reported in May that in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, the total cost of travel and protection for him and his family was about US$30 million, compared with a total annual cost of US$12 million for former president Barack Obama, who did not travel as frequently but came in for criticism nonetheless from conservatives.