The series of recent lapses by the Secret Service has put the agency's budget in the news. A New York Times editorial today reports:
The budget and size of the Secret Service, though, has fallen in the last few years. In 2011, the agency had about 6,900 staff positions; it now has about 6,600. Its budget fell from $1.9 billion in 2012 to $1.8 billion in 2013, in part because of automatic cuts demanded by Congress, and it has gone up only slightly since then. Though money cannot be the only reason for these errors, people inside the agency say the cuts have led to staff burnout, low morale and unmonitored posts.
A Washington Post dispatch reports "the Secret Service is operating this year with a budget larger than at any time except 2012, when the last presidential election took place – Secret Service spending tends to rise dramatically during those years, since the agency has to protect both the president and the president's challenger." The Post also reports, "Despite the belt tightening, Congress last year gave the Secret Service more money than it asked for, due to concerns that the amount originally requested by the administration wouldn't be enough for the agency to do its job effectively."
If the $1.8 billion a year were devoted just to protecting President Obama, the agency could hire 1,800 bodyguards, pay them each $1 million a year, and tell them to make sure no one gets anywhere near the president. But protecting President Obama isn't all that the Secret Service does. It also protects former presidents and their spouses, and it protects foreign dignitaries who visit America. And it fights counterfeiting, Ponzi schemes, and child pornography. It's quite possible that Congress will react to the Secret Service's failures by increasing the agency's budget, which would be a fine example of perverse incentives. An earlier column I wrote about the Secret Service is here.