Secret Service may leave Homeland Security, rejoin Treasury
Washington – The White House is throwing its support behind a plan to transfer the U.S. Secret Service back to the Treasury Department to better focus on the growing threat of online financial crimes.
Shifting the agency from within the Department of Homeland Security to the Treasury would require action from Congress, but President Donald Trump is confident enough that he plans to include the Secret Service under the Treasury’s budget in his proposal expected Monday, according to five administration officials with knowledge of the move. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations.
The Department of Homeland Security’s intense focus on immigration has only added to the growing divide between what the Secret Service sees as its dual missions – protecting the president and investigating financial crime – and the mission of its parent department.
But there are strong concerns the Secret Service’s departure could lead to the eventual dismantling of DHS, which was formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a counterterrorism agency bringing together security agencies across the government.
The Secret Service is best known as the agency responsible for protecting the president, but its original purpose when it was formed in 1865 was to investigate financial crimes such as counterfeit money proliferating during the Civil War. It was housed under the Treasury until 2003, when it was transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security.
Only about half of the Secret Service’s budget is spent on protective services. It also has a robust cybercrime division, state-of-the-art forensic labs and a threat assessment center that studies how to mitigate and train against threats. The agency’s annual budget of about $2.3 billion would shift from one department to another under Trump’s proposal.
In the Trump era, DHS has been highly focused on immigration, one of the Republican president’s top priorities, leaving other agencies unrelated to immigration out of the spotlight.
“The biggest challenge has been the president’s immigration focus,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the AP. “The immigration focus takes up a lot of the resources for DHS. It’s been very difficult for Secret Service to be fully funded. ”
Department of Homeland Security officials initially pushed back against shifting the Secret Service back to the Treasury, concerned it could spark an exodus from other agencies contained within DHS, a 240,000-person department that also includes disaster relief, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration, according to the officials.
The Secret Service is “part of a unique cohort that gets lost in the massive bureaucracy,” said Breanne Deppisch, who studies the topic for the Aspen Institute think tank.
Deppisch said she feared the news could be a blow to other non-immigration agencies at Homeland Security, specifically the newly formed Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, tasked with election security. She worried it could deepen recruitment problems at other agencies and lower morale.
It’s not the first time such a move has been considered in recent years. After a high-profile prostitution scandal in 2012 and other missteps, Democrats and Republicans in Congress debated whether the agency should be relocated, broken up or shrunk.
A feasibility study was completed last year from a working group of Homeland Security, the Treasury and the White House, and the results found that moving the Secret Service would help enhance collaboration in the Treasury and would put the Secret Service back on the map as a large law enforcement agency, though it could harm morale at Homeland Security.