Lawmakers on Tuesday debated how the Secret Service found itself in a position to no longer pay overtime to its agents during its busy election season, but members from both parties agreed the officers should be retroactively compensated.
A provision of statute guiding Secret Service operations caps its agents’ annual salary at that of a General Schedule-15, step 10 employee. The lengthy and crowded presidential race this year caused agents to reach that cap quickly, in some cases as early as May. Patrick O’Carroll, executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Association, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee some Secret Service workers were shorted as much as $30,000-$40,000 in overtime pay.
The committee will consider on Wednesday a measure introduced by its chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to provide temporary relief for 2016. Chaffetz said the bill would free up about $22 million to allow “almost everyone” at the agency to receive their full pay. He added, however -- and members of both parties agreed -- the long-term solution required additional staffing.
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Homeland Security Department Inspector General John Roth said the Secret Service was about 1,300 employees short of full staffing. Democrats on the panel, including Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., pointed to a lack of funding and specifically cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act as the reason for the shortage. Chaffetz and other Republicans cited mismanagement and a burdensome investigative mission that should be outsourced elsewhere.
Tom Dougherty, the Secret Service’s chief strategy officer, said the agency has made progress on the hiring front, noting it has brought on more than 300 special agents in fiscal 2016 and is on pace to hire more than 1,600 total employees in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. He added the agency is doing everything in its power to “up the tempo for hiring,” and has addressed complaints about the mandatory relocating of employees.
Cummings said the overtime issue is likely to crop up in each presidential election year, and vowed to introduce a bill that would automatically eliminate the pay caps for Secret Service agents every four years. He and Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wrote to House appropriators asking them to allow the agency to pay all the overtime agents have earned this year and will earn in 2020. O’Carroll suggested Congress grant the Secret Service director with the authority to waive the pay cap when deemed necessary to meet its protective mission.
Moving forward, the Secret Service’s mission could get even more complicated. Agency officials are reportedly meeting with the New York Police Department to determine the best security plan for President-elect Donald Trump when he stays in his home city, which he is expected to do frequently both in his transition and throughout his presidency. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, R-Tenn., expressed concern for Trump’s safety.
“We’ve seen many very hateful protests against President-elect Trump in the last few days,” Duncan said, asking if the agency would provide Trump with “more protection than you normally do.” Dougherty said the Secret Service would continue to carry out its proven methods.
Roth said the Secret Service has made some progress in instituting the recommendations made by both an independent review board and Congress, but could still fall victim to the “vicious cycle” of increased workloads leading to higher attrition rates and even more work for the remaining employees. He said the agency has instituted some “basic building blocks” of effective management, through “professionalizing their staff” with chief human capital, financial and information officers.
“Time will tell if this is sufficient,” Roth said. “We will simply monitor it and see.”