The Secret Service has been plagued by low morale and high employee turnover in recent years. With those issues and others affecting employees, U.S. Rep. John Katko wants to know what Congress can do to help improve the agency's situation.
Katko, R-Camillus, chaired a House subcommittee hearing Thursday that focused on the challenges facing the Secret Service. Retired Gen. Randolph Alles, the agency's director, and Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth testified at the hearing.
To lead off his round of questioning, Katko said he consulted with Secret Service agents he met during his previous career as a federal prosecutor. The agents cited high turnover, limited staffing at field offices and the need for a different retirement system.
Another suggestion was lifting the pay cap. One agent told Katko that they worked 104 hours of overtime in April, but will be paid for only 16 of those hours.
With these issues at the agency, Katko asked Alles, "What do you need?"
Alles said leadership is key to addressing the resource gap, the need for more agents and morale. Regardless, he lauded the existing workforce for their commitment, even under less than desirable circumstances.
"One of the impressive things about the agency is they get the job done no matter what," he said. "And as I tell them that's good and that's bad. It's good that they're doing the mission. The bad part is where is the work-life balance for the agency — for our uniformed division officers and our special agents — and it's generally not there."
He also addressed the pay cap issue and again praised employees who, despite reaching the limit, continue to work to achieve the mission. But he questioned the fairness of the cap, which results in employees working for free.
Between 500 to 700 agents exceed the pay cap, according to Alles.
"It's remarkable how good a job they do under these circumstances," Katko said.
Alles is hoping to raise morale and boost the Secret Service workforce. In his written testimony, he said the agency will hire approximately 300 special agents, 280 uniformed division officers and 260 administrative, professional and technical employees in the 2017 fiscal year.
By the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the agency expects to add 450 more special agents, 150 uniformed division officers and 300 administrative employees.
But Alles acknowledged that one challenge is money. He said the Secret Service is short an estimated $200 to $300 million a year to hire additional personnel and to have the necessary technology available for agency employees.
The hearing was the first Katko has held as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Protective Security that's focused on the Secret Service. The agency was added to his panel's responsibilities at the beginning of the year.
He now oversees the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration, which manages security efforts at airports and other transit hubs.