The United States Secret Service has been in the news with adverse publicity for the last several years. It might be time to take a hard look at this powerful agency and examine its various missions. It seems that since it was moved from the Treasury Department to Homeland Security bad things have been happening to the Secret Service.
First, a little background on the agency. The United States Secret Service was created by an act of Congress on July 5, 1865 as a division of the Treasury Department. Its first and only mission was the suppression of currency counterfeiters. The U.S. Marshals Service did not have the manpower to investigate all crime under federal jurisdiction, so the Secret Service began to investigate everything from murder to bank robbery to illegal gambling.
The division soon became a catch-all unit for everything from domestic intelligence to counterintelligence. After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress informally requested that the Secret Service provide presidential protection. A year later, the Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility for presidential protection.
They shed some of these responsibilities when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was created in 1908. Many of the agency’s missions were later taken over by subsequent agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Marshal Service(USMS), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Currently, the Secret Service has responsibilities that include:
- Financial Crimes, covering missions such as prevention and investigation of counterfeiting of U.S. currency and U.S. treasury securities, and investigation of major fraud.
- Protection, which entails ensuring the safety of current and former national leaders and their families, such as the President, past presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates, visiting heads of state, and foreign embassies.
The first questions that need to be asked are: Should the Secret Service be split into two since the two missions are totally unrelated? Should the Financial Crimes unit be returned to its rightful place at the Treasury Department where coordination with the other financial agencies would be closer?
This seems like a no-brainer in terms of organizational efficiency but quite often efficiency is not what government does best. I suspect that the higher-ups at the Secret Service would fight any change that diminishes their power. It would probably hold true for entrenched bureaucrats at Homeland Security who might see it as threat to their department. But that’s another post for another day.
The main area of mission creep has come about in the Protection Division. Where once they were assigned to protect the President and his immediate family, the division now protects almost every high federal official. Here’s the list of current protectees:
- The President, the Vice President (or other officer next in the order of succession to the Office of President, should the vice presidency be vacant), the President-elect, and the Vice President-elect
- The immediate families of the above individuals
- Former Presidents and their spouses for their lifetimes except when the spouse divorces or remarries. From 1997 until 2013, legislation became effective limiting Secret Service protection to former Presidents and their spouses to a period of 10 years from the date the former President leaves office. President Barack Obama signed legislation reversing this limit and reinstating lifetime protection on January 10, 2013.
- The widow or widower of a former President who dies in office or dies within a year of leaving office for a period of one year after the President’s death (the Secretary of Homeland Security can extend the protection time)
- Children of former Presidents until age 16 or 10 years after the presidency.
- Former Vice Presidents, their spouses, and their children under age for up to 6 months from the date the former Vice President leaves office (the Secretary of Homeland Security can extend the protection time)
- Visiting heads of states or governments and their spouses traveling with them,
- Other distinguished foreign visitors to the United States and official representatives of the United States performing special missions abroad, as directed by the President
- Major presidential and vice presidential candidates
- The spouses of major presidential and vice presidential candidates (within 120 days of a general presidential election)
- Other individuals as designated per executive order of the President
- National Special Security Events, when designated as such by the Secretary of Homeland Security
In today’s era of terrorists blanket protection seems necessary but the Secret Service has perhaps carried things too far. I have a real problem with protecting major presidential and vice presidential candidates plus their families. These modern campaigns raise enough money to pay for their own protection and they should.
Currently, Hillary Clinton who is running a stealth campaign for the Presidency has Secret Service agents protecting her while shew’s on her nation-wide book tour. Can you image what that costs? Her husband is also protected by the Secret Service while he travels around the country campaigning and making speeches. It also holds true for George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Can’t they afford their own protective details rather than making the taxpayers foot the bill.
Plus, there are a number of other individuals and events that can be designated for protection by the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security. Secret Service protection has become a sign of power in Washington and it needs to be investigated by Congress.