It’s time to protect the Secret Service from the president
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The United States spends a lot of money protecting the life of the president. As the most powerful man in the nation and the leader of the free world, the investment is entirely appropriate. He is constantly at risk from those who would do him harm.

Regardless of whether we agree with a president’s political positions or style, the president’s life matters and should be protected. Our nation should provide sufficient resources to guard and protect the president, and treat with respect the Secret Service agents who daily put their own lives at risk to keep the president from harm.

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When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, he was guarded by a single Washington policeman of questionable integrity with a less than stellar history of job performance. John Parker left his post outside of Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater shortly after intermission to go drinking at the saloon next door. Thus, when John Wilkes Booth approached Lincoln’s box from behind, the door to the box was guarded by only an empty chair, allowing Booth to fire the fatal shot without any resistance.

 

Ironically, Lincoln signed a bill on the day of his assassination creating the Secret Service, but their function then was limited to detecting counterfeiting of currency.

It wasn’t until the third American president tragically fell victim to assassination (William McKinley in 1901 – after James Garfield in 1881) that the role of the Secret Service was expanded to include protecting the president.

Since then, while there have been assassination attempts (Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan), and countless threats against presidents, John F. Kennedy remains the only president assassinated while under Secret Service protection.

We live in a very different world from 1865 when a sole policeman was charged with protecting the president. And since Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, the risks to the president have monumentally increased and requires a larger and more sophisticated Secret Service to protect the life of the president.

President Trump’s lifestyle has stretched the capacity of the Secret Service to protect him and his large family. His travels to multiple vacation getaways spots he owns, visits to foreign countries and regular re-election campaign rallies have resulted in constant travel and many overtime hours by agents assigned to protect him.

This stressful environment has taken its toll on some agents who have left the Secret Service for positions offering a better work/life balance. The attrition has required the remaining agents to work even more overtime. A 2014 investigation found that agents worked “an unsustainable number of hours.”

The Secret Service recently disclosed that they have not paid – and are unable to pay – more than 1,000 agents who have worked overtime to guard the president and his family. This isn’t an issue of the Secret Service not having enough money in their budget. Instead, these agents have reached or will reach the maximum annual amount allowed for salary and overtime of $160,300. It’s an amount that should have lasted for the entire year given a normal travel schedule for the president and his family. 

These hardworking and courageous agents are due the money they have already earned for their work, sacrifice and commitment to their jobs. Just as the president’s life is valuable, the quality of life and pay for these agents is important. 

Congress must immediately bury the partisan hatchet and increase the maximum limit to allow these agents to be paid. This isn’t a conservative or liberal issue. It is not a red state or blue state issue. It is an American issue of basic equity and fairness that we pay for work performed.

Beyond increasing the annual amount the agents may be paid, the president can take actions to care for and respect these loyal Secret Service agents who put their lives on the line every day.

A week after announcing his unlikely bid for the Oval Office in 2015, Trump committed himself to a rigorous presidential work ethic should he win the election. “I would rarely leave the White House because there is so much work to be done,” then candidate Trump pledged. “I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off.”

The president could be true to his promise and spend more time in the White House attending to the duties of the presidency and less time on golfing vacations at his resorts, and less time at campaign rallies. This would reduce the overtime that Secret Service agents must work, and provide them with a better work/life balance that would ultimately help retain agents.

In addition, some of the 18 members of the president’s family who receive Secret Service protection could decline such protection and hire private security. For example, is it equitable that American taxpayers pay for protection of Trump’s son’s Donald, Jr. and Eric while they travel the globe on business trips to increase the profits for the Trump Organization?

For a president supposedly concerned about excessive federal spending, these simple actions would decrease the amount of travel and overtime required by Secret Service agents, and provide them with a higher quality of life.

In response to the fact that some agents have blasted through the allowed overtime limit before the end of the year, some rabid partisans have suggested the president should simply go without security. Regardless of one’s political persuasions, this is a shameful and dangerous idea that only enflames the national rhetoric.

The president’s life matters, no matter who is president. We know what happened in 1865 when Lincoln’s bodyguard took a break from his duty to go drinking with some buddies.

The president’s first seven months in office have been tumultuous by almost any standard and there are certainly valid reasons to be concerned about his policies and fitness for office. But that doesn’t change the fact that he should be protected by the Secret Service.

It also doesn’t change the fact that the men and women who sacrifice so much to ensure his safety must be paid for the work they have performed. Congress must immediately lift the salary and overtime cap, the president should curtail his travel and some members of Trump’s family should decline protection. These steps would help increase the morale of Secret Service agents and decrease federal expenditures.

Mike Purdy is a presidential historian and the founder of PresidentialHistory.com. He is a frequent and popular speaker and is often quoted by the media about presidential history and politics, including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Huffington Post, BBC and others.


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