At a meeting earlier this year, U.S. Rep. John Katko asked Secret Service special agents in charge what issues he needed to work on now that his House subcommittee had jurisdiction over the law enforcement agency.
The consensus among the agents: Morale was terrible and employees work for free because of salary and overtime caps limiting their pay to a certain level each year. The current limit for base and overtime pay is $161,900.
When Katko, R-Camillus, told the agents he would address the problem, they didn't seem to believe him.
"They looked at me and basically said, 'Yeah, right. Sure,'" he recalled in a phone interview Tuesday. "They never thought I could."
Katko heard about the morale and pay issues against at a subcommittee hearing in June. Secret Service Director Randolph Alles lauded employees who continue to perform their duties despite reaching the pay cap. Many agents, including those assigned to President Donald Trump and his family, exceed the cap.
In September, Katko introduced a bill to provide a short-term fix. His legislation would raise the pay cap from $161,900 to $187,000 in 2017. According to a committee report, the bill will benefit approximately 1,300 Secret Service employees.
The House passed the bill Tuesday by a 407-4 vote. Katko, who spoke on the House floor in support of the measure, explained that some agents work for free because they reached the pay cap as early as June. Because of the cap, agents could lose $10 million in overtime pay.
"This, in turn, leads to challenges in retention and recruitment, further exacerbating staffing shortages," he said.
As demonstrated by the vote, the bill received bipartisan support. The legislation has 15 cosponsors, including five Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, is one of the cosponsors and spoke in support of the bill Tuesday.
"Any way that we can help protect the protectees and keep these well-experienced, committed, dedicated agents willing to sacrifice their life from leaving so that we can also recruit is a vital step forward," she said.
But Katko acknowledged that it's only a short-term fix. The bill would only apply to pay in 2017. While roughly 1,300 agents will benefit from the increase, there are approximately 144 employees who will be owed overtime pay.
Other issues remain, including the high turnover rates and limited staffing at some offices.
"We're taking a look at their hiring practices, what's going on with their attrition rates, all that stuff to figure out what the real long-term solutions are," Katko said.
There are other hurdles before the cap is officially lifted for Service Service pay. The Senate must pass legislation before it can go to President Donald Trump's desk for his review. A similar measure was passed in 2016 to lift the pay cap for agents.