This is a story about the troubled lives of Secret Service agents.
It is not a story for supermarket tabloids or a TMZ expose. But it is a scandal, though not in the sense of misdeeds that have sullied the Secret Service in recent years.
Secret Service agents lose tens of thousands of dollars, because they are required to work weeks and months for no pay. That’s a scandal.
Agents’ annual pay, including overtime, is capped at $160,300. But during presidential campaign years they can easily work far more time than covered by that amount. They don’t stop working when they reach the cap. They stay on the job without pay.
That’s dedication to mission. It also can wreck home life, lead to burn-out and sap morale.
Listen to these stories from unnamed agents as told by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), from information provided by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, at a hearing Tuesday.
- An agent in New York on the detail of Donald Trump, now the president-elect, expects to lose almost $30,000: “During this year, I’ve missed holidays, birthdays and other life events. Often when I’ve been back off my campaign rotation, I’d been grabbed for in-town protective assignments or out of town assignments for POTUS and VPOTUS (the President of the United States and the vice president). In total, I’ve been…away from home for close to eight months of time this year.”
- An agent in Chicago anticipates exceeding the pay cap by almost $25,000: “The pace has been terrible and I can’t even remember last when I’ve been in the office for two days in a row. Thankfully I’m not married, but if I was, would probably be divorced by now.”
- A supervisory agent and protective detail leader has exceeded the pay cap by $60,000: “This has been rubbing salt in a wound. We give all and have our lives completely disrupted and don’t see any benefit from that sacrifice.”
- An agent in Utah can’t explain the “just ridiculous” constant overtime travel to family members: “My wife keeps asking me what the benefit is and I don’t have a good answer.”
- A senior agent in Maryland is becoming a stranger to his children: “We are busier than ever, staffing has become rolling people from one assignment to another with no break and we are all at or near the pay cap which adds to the frustration. … My children normally didn’t see a lot of me, but now they ask if I’m ever coming home.”
- A shift leader worked an average of 90 hours a week during the campaign and is owed at least $25,000 in wages that won’t be paid: “I’m away from my family for weeks at a time missing out on various functions of my school age children. My wife feels as though she’s a single mother and there is no financial benefit to being away.”
It’s no wonder the Secret Service ranks 319 out of 320 agencies on the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings published by the Partnership for Public Service.
Secret Service managers recognize both the problem and the necessity of keeping staffers on the job even when they can’t be paid.
“The ‘max-out’ issue has been consistently identified as one of the top issues affecting employee morale and employee retention,” Thomas E. Dougherty, the agency’s chief strategy officer, told the hearing. “However, the protective mission requires continued, uninterrupted coverage for our protectees, requiring individuals to work over the amount for which they are able to be legally paid due to the annual cap.”
Republicans and Democrats agree that needs to change.
Chaffetz said “almost every single agent in the Secret Service has performed overtime for which they have not been compensated. … This is not a volunteer job and when you take yourself and put your life on the line to protect others and protect this nation … you should get compensated for that, and we need to address that.”
On Wednesday, the committee approved his legislation to provide agents back pay for uncompensated overtime. Democrats also want to make agents whole.
Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) and Bennie G. Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrats on the Oversight and Government Reform and Homeland Security committees, respectively, sent a letter Tuesday to the House Appropriations Committee urging it to approve funding for 2016 and 2020 Secret Service overtime pay.
Citing a USA Today article that said at least 1,000 agents have maxed out their pay, the letter said, “the Secret Service has a no-fail mission, and we cannot expect to achieve adequate staffing levels when so many agents are being asked to work overtime for free.”