Congress settles dispute over Snow's Secret Service detail
Treasury Department -- accustomed to free protection for its secretary-- will now need to pick up the tab.
Congress has quietly intervened in an interagency dispute over whether the Treasury Department should reimburse the U.S. Secret Service for protecting Treasury Secretary John Snow -- a clash triggered after Congress transferred the Secret Service from Snow's department to the Homeland Security Department three years ago.
Senate lawmakers slipped language into the fiscal 2006 Homeland Security appropriations bill President Bush signed into law Oct. 18 that requires all agency heads receiving Secret Service protection -- except for the Homeland Security secretary -- to pick up the tab for their security detail.
That provision actually applies only to Snow, whom sources said has been adamant about retaining Secret Service protection despite losing the agency during the government reorganization after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Other Cabinet departments hire and train their own security details, according to the Government Accountability Office, which also reported in 2000 that most of those hired guns do not receive adequate training and are not given sufficient authority to protect Cabinet personnel.
To ensure clarity, senators added more language to the bill alerting the Treasury Department it could no longer boss around the Secret Service on the issue. Secret Service funding cannot be used for activities outside the Homeland Security Department's mission, they wrote, insisting that Secret Service personnel answer only to the Homeland Security secretary.
Senate appropriators wanted to make sure the Secret Service "would not have to eat the cost of protecting another department's secretary," according to a source familiar with their thinking.
The squabble surfaced last year when the Treasury Department persuaded the Senate Transportation-Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee to include a provision in its fiscal 2005 spending measure denying the Secret Service's request for $2.4 million in payment for protecting the Treasury secretary.
"The committee believes that protective services are a core responsibility of the [Secret Service], which should be funded in the department of Homeland Security's budget," Senate appropriators wrote in their report accompanying the fiscal 2005 Transportation-Treasury spending bill.
But that language was later stripped from the final version of the spending measure, allowing confusion to persist over which department should pay for Secret Service protection, according to Senate and Treasury Department aides. The Treasury Department, which has had Secret Service protection for its secretary since its inception, believed Congress backed its argument that it was not required to reimburse the Secret Service for Snow's detail.
"We've always had Secret Service protection," said a Treasury spokesman. He declined to elaborate on the department's position, and instead pointed to the Bush administration's Statement of Administration Policy on the issue.
Addressing the Senate fiscal 2006 homeland security appropriations bill, the administration said July 11 that the president "should continue to have the flexibility to direct the Homeland Security secretary to provide, whether on a reimbursable or nonreimbursable basis, Secret Service protection to the head of an executive agency."
Despite the president's objections, House and Senate conferees kept the Senate provision in the final spending bill, which Bush eventually signed into law.