The Secret Service is again asking lawmakers to lift the cap on overtime pay for agents, but this time congressional Republicans want answers.
President Trump signed a bill earlier this year to raise the statutory limit on overtime pay for Secret Service agents providing protective details, both for 2018 and retroactively to 2017. The agency has requested that Congress once again raise the cap into at least through the 2020 presidential election, Republican oversight leaders said in a letter to Secret Service Director Randolph Alles and confirmed by an agency spokeswoman.
A provision of statute guiding Secret Service operations caps its agents’ annual salary at that of a General Schedule-15, Step 10 employee. The measure Trump signed earlier this year raised that limit from $160,000 to $187,000 in 2017 and 2018. Congress passed the bill after more than 1,000 agents had worked more hours than they were eligible to be paid for. Already, Secret Service spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan told Government Executive, the agency is expecting 900 agents to be eligible for pay cap relief in 2018.
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Before lawmakers authorize another such increase, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the respective chairmen of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked to see how the details for Trump and his family compare to those of his predecessors. The Republican leaders asked for the names and position title of each individual granted Secret Service protection “by executive order or other presidential directive” under every president since Ronald Reagan.
The chairmen also asked Alles to make available all threat assessments conducted on current protectees who received their security details via presidential direction.
Alles drew headlines for a comment he made in 2017 in which he said the unusually large task of protecting Trump’s family, including, at the time, on overseas business trips taken by his oldest sons, drained the Secret Service’s resources and caused agents to hit their overtime caps as early as August. He later walked back those comments, saying the agency’s issues stemmed from longstanding problems and not Trump specifically.
The Secret Service ran into a similar issue in 2016, when the agency was stretched particularly thin due to the large presidential field requiring protection. Agents reported being shorted $30,000-$40,000 in overtime pay. Lawmakers eventually agreed to free up $22 million so the agency could provide back pay. This year’s bill called on the agency to report to Congress on its recruitment and retention efforts, including data on attrition, morale issues and strategies to address those challenges.
The agency has for years struggled with attrition and staffing issues, despite repeated efforts by Congress to boost its rolls.
Nathan Catura, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said last year some of his members at the Secret Service have said they are “jumping ship” to another agency where they can have a more normal schedule.
“These Secret Service agents are getting the shaft,” Catura said. “They’re professionals and they're going to do the job, but that's why they’re leaving. They’re just overworked and they just can’t deal with it anymore.”
Catura has called on Congress to give the Secret Service director or Homeland Security Department secretary authority to grant waivers each year as needed. Other agencies have run into overtime cap issues, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency during last year’s hurricane responses. Congress also included cap exemptions for most of those employees in a fiscal 2018 spending bill.
Alles has boasted that his agency has slashed its hiring time from 15 months to four months, but has still bemoaned conditions leading to poor morale and high attrition. He warned last year that low staffing levels would lead to a concerning work-life balance and employees running into their caps well before the end of the fiscal year. He promised, however, that “rigorous hiring” efforts would help to alleviate the problem.
In a recent request to Congress, however, Alles asked lawmakers to extend the higher overtime cap past its current expiration date of Dec. 31, 2018, and into 2020 at least.
"We look forward to working with the appropriate committees of jurisdiction and DHS to justify the agency’s requirements for continued statutory pay cap relief in future years to appropriately pay our eligible workforce for overtime related protection," Milhoan said.
This story has been updated with comment from the Secret Service.