Looks like US President Donald Trump's frequent vacations and trips to Mar-a-Lago in Florida are costing the Secret Service a whole lot of money and time.
The Secret Service has said the fund reserved to cover the expenses of protecting the president and his family will run out by the end of September post which the agency will be forced to put a cap on salaries if the Congress does not intervene in the matter.
Agency officials were quoted by the Washington Post as saying that if the lawmakers do not lift the cap on their salaries, agents would be forced to work overtime without getting paid.
The spending limits are supposed to last through December but the cost to protect Trump and his extended first family has strained the Secret Service, local governments and the Coast Guard. The US Coast Guard had to run round-the-clock shoreline patrols alongside Mar-a-Lago when the president visits the town for vacations or business trips.
"The Secret Service estimates that roughly 1,100 employees will work overtime hours in excess of statutory pay caps during calendar year 2017. To remedy this ongoing and serious problem, the agency has worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Administration, and the Congress over the past several months to find a legislative solution," Director Randolph "Tex" Alles said in a statement.
Trump's frequent business trips and vacations costing the agency
Trump has been travelling extensively since becoming president. He and his wife, Melania Trump, fly to their oceanfront Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach in Florida and to their golf club in Bedminster in New Jersey frequently.
The Secret Service also has to provide protection to Trump's four children and son-in-law, who keep travelling. His sons, Eric and Donald Jr travelled to UAE, with Secret Service agents in tow, for business and also attended the opening of their brand new golf resort in the country.
First Lady Melania stayed with son Barron in New York for the first five months of Trump's presidency. Therefore, the Secret Service had to provide security at the Trump Tower as well.
The agency's workload has increased under Trump as it provides protection to 42 members round the clock, 11 more people than the Obama administration. Out of the 42 people, 18 of them are members of Trump's family.
The Secret Service has requested for $60 million extra for the next year to cover the expenses. Almost half of the additional funds would be spent in providing protection to Trump's family and home in Trump Tower in New York, the Washington Post reported. The rest would be spent on travel costs incurred by "the president, vice president and other visiting heads of state."
Protection to former presidents
The Secret Service, which has been plagued by budget shortages, low morale and leadership changes, has to provide security to former presidents as well.
Former presidents and their families have been guaranteed round the clock protection with no cap on expenses. According to Judicial Match, travel expenses under the Obama administration were estimated to be almost $97 million in eight years.
Alles, in his statement, said the increase of 800 staff members in the agency accounts for the extra costs. He said the issue was "not one that can be attributed to the current Administration's protection requirements alone." He added that in recent years, the Congress has frequently permitted the Secret Service to exceed the overtime and salary cap.
The office of Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has said the limit has exceeded by a certain amount in recent years but usually 300 agents would be affected unlike in 2016, when 1,300 agents were affected while protecting Obama, Hillary Clinton and Trump during the election campaign.
More funds for the Secret Service?
Republicans and Democrats have said they are concerned about the demands on the agency and vowed to find a permanent solution to the problem.
"Mr. Cummings and I have spoken twice this morning about our mutual desire to see the Secret Service funded and the agents treated fairly while acknowledging the difficult and important job they have," Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in a statement, Washington Post reported.
Cummings has also said in a statement that he has plans to introduce a legislation that would allow the Secret Service to increase the mandated limits on a regular basis.
"The hardworking men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line every day, and it is a travesty that they are not being paid for the hours they work. Congress cannot stand on the sidelines and complain - we need to act to ensure that Secret Service agents get every penny they deserve, period," Cummings said.