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Assessing the U.S. Secret Service’s budget situation

The U.S. Secret Service has been the subject of a great deal of media attention in the past week, since the fence-jumping incident at the White House on September 19th. This weekend, the Washington Post published a long piece reviewing the Secret Service’s performance in response to a shooting incident at the White House in 2011. Several recent articles (including an insightful piece by Marc Ambinder in Politico) have raised the US Secret Service’s budget as a contributing factor to its performance in these incidents and to declines in its overall effectiveness and morale.

But what is the ground truth in terms of the US Secret Service’s budget and workforce? To what extent have budget cuts or constraints had a negative impact on their capabilities? To try to answer these questions, I have gone through public DHS budget documents from the last nine years, and put together two charts tracking the Secret Service’s total budget and full-time equivalent (FTE) employee count from fiscal year 2007 to the present. The blue line on each chart shows the funding and FTE level requested each year by the Administration; the red line shows actual funding and FTE levels at the end of the corresponding fiscal year:


(Note that the dollar totals on the y-axis of this chart are by 1000’s, i.e. within the range of $1.5-$2 billion).


Overall, these two charts show that the US Secret Service budget and workforce was on a relatively smooth and gradually upward trajectory from 2007 to 2012 (the notable single-year increase in FY 2009 was, if I recall correctly, due primarily to increased security costs associated with the 2008 Presidential campaign). But in last 2-3 years, the Secret Service budget situation undoubtedly has deteriorated, due to several factors, including:

(a) the harmful impact of sequestration during Fiscal Year 2013, which directly contributed to the Secret Service’s “actual” budget for FY 2013 falling more than $41 million short of the Administration’s request for that year;

(b) the Administration’s low budget request for FY 2014, which the two Appropriations committees described as “damaging”, “unacceptable”, and having “a severely detrimental impact on the Secret Service’s protection and investigation missions”;

(c) the impact of “efficiency review” and “administrative savings” initiatives within DHS, which were warranted for other parts of DHS in 2011-2013 but not so much for the comparatively frugal Secret Service. For example in FY 2013, DHS headquarters imposed $37.7 million of administrative savings on the Secret Service (see the chart on page 67 of this PDF), including significant cuts to overtime, TDY travel, and fleet management, which likely had a negative impact on its effectiveness.

The FY 2015 request for the US Secret Service increases its overall funding to a level that should resolve some of the budget woes from the last few years, and both the House and the Senate appropriations committee have indicated their support of this full request in their respective bills. In light of this most recent incident, Congress should now also review whether additional funds are warranted above the FY 2015 request level, particularly with respect to staffing at the White House complex and the Secret Service’s IT modernization efforts.