WASHINGTON - The Secret Service is providing protective details to 33 members of President Joe Biden's administration and family, a marked drop from the record number shadowed during the Trump administration, according to agency records.
Under Donald Trump, 42 people, including 18 family members, were assigned protection, requiring agents to shuttle among the former president's various properties and accompany the family's adult children on frequent foreign and domestic travel.
The unyielding pace regularly caused hundreds of agents to reach annual pay caps, prompting Congress to temporarily raise maximum compensation levels by more than $25,000 per year to help cover shortfalls.
During the Biden administration, officials said, the tempo of operations has relented somewhat with fewer protectees to cover while COVID-19 restrictions have limited some early travel. The 33 protected during the Biden administration is closer to the 31 covered under President Barack Obama.
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"It has not been as robust as in the last administration," Secret Service Deputy Director Faron Paramore told USA TODAY. "I can't speak specifically on the numbers ... but I don't believe there's as much travel ... especially from an overseas perspective."
The agency did not provide the number of Biden family members, to include adult children Hunter and Ashley Biden, who are among the administration's 33 protectees. But Paramore said that number was less than the previous administration.
The Secret Service declined to identify the roster of those who are being covered by the agency, though the immediate family members of the president and vice president, including adult children, are typically provided protection.
Last month, ABC News reported the service was paying $30,000 per month to rent a home in Malibu, California, near Hunter Biden as part of the agency's protection operation involving the president's son.
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"Due to the need to maintain operational security, the U.S. Secret Service does not comment on the means, methods, or resources used to conduct our protective operations," the agency said.
Hunter Biden, who is the subject of a long-running federal tax inquiry in Delaware, could not be reached for comment.
Protection obligations often fluctuate, but Paramore said the agency's responsibilities during the Trump administration marked a striking departure from previous presidents.
Since the Clinton administration, the agency's White House protective details were largely confined to smaller families with young or teen-age children whose worlds beyond the security "bubble" did not stray far from their schools.
"Now, shift gears and go to the last administration where you've got three adult children (Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka) ... who are crisscrossing the world," said Paramore, who served on President Bill Clinton's protective detail. Secret Service agents also shadowed Tiffany Trump, a fourth adult child, on trips abroad.
"Nobody, during the Obama administration, during Bush 43, during Clinton, those children were not taking independent trips halfway around the world. So yeah, that has an impact on us because, as former director (Randolph) Alles used to say, 'We don't have a choice to decide who we protect and who we do not protect.'"
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Early in Trump's presidency, it was Alles who cited the size of the Trump family, their frequent travel and the efforts to secure multiple family residences along the East Coast as contributing to a strain on the agency.
Alles said then that more than 1,000 agents hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances just seven months into 2017 that were meant to last the entire year. (The expanded protective mission and travel also followed a contentious election season when the agency traditionally confronts its most daunting security challenges.)
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The compensation crunch prompted discussions with key lawmakers to raise the combined salary and overtime cap for agents, from about $160,000 per year to nearly $190,000. Those talks resulted in legislation signed by Trump in 2018, and the relief was extended through 2023.
Secret Service Director James Murray told a House committee last year that the pay boost assisted nearly 1,200 agents in 2020. More recent estimates were not immediately available.
Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., one of the key sponsors of the cap increase, said the ranks "deserve to be compensated for the important work they do to protect our nation's leadership and financial systems."
"It is also important that the agency continues making reforms aimed at addressing longer-term personnel challenges," Katko said.
The long-term challenges were highlighted earlier this year in a report by the General Accounting Office, indicating that the agency has struggled to meet a special panel's recommendations for enhanced training following a string of security breaches and episodes of agent misconduct.
The Secret Service was thrust into an unflattering spotlight yet again last month when four agency members were duped by two men accused of masquerading as federal officers offering thousands of dollars in free housing and gifts.
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Paramore said the enhanced training recommendations issued by the special panel were based on the agency reaching longer-term staffing goals, though the target of 9,595, is not expected to be hit until 2026 or early 2027.
The deputy director said the agency was "absolutely committed" to reaching the full staffing goal, though he said the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the effort.
'A balancing act'
Arnette Heintz, a former Secret Service agent who served on presidential protective details, said the assignments are always labor intensive, requiring both the deployment of agents and resources to support the work.
While the numbers of protectees may differ across administrations, he said decisions on the merits of the coverage never crossed into politics.
"Every decision was based on a threat assessment," Heintz said, adding that family members of the principals are important to the overall strategy. "Every detail is very well thought out."
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When there are fewer protectees, Heintz said agents and other personnel are cycled into the agency's investigative missions that include cyber security and securing the nation's currency and financial systems.
"The investigative demands are ever-present," Heintz said. "It's a balancing act that leadership has to do, but protectees always come first."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Secret Service protecting 33 under Biden, down from 42 under Trump