Protecting Donald Trump and his family will involve unprecedented costs for taxpayers. But federal and New York City officials are dismissing speculation about sky-scraping expenses.
The Secret Service renting a floor or two of Trump Tower for as much as $3 million a year? Not happening, the agency says. New York City paying a million dollars a day to protect the first family? “Inaccurate and unconfirmed,” said a spokesman for Mayor Bill De Blasio.
Yet local and federal law enforcement officials concede the costs for securing the immediate and extended First Family-elect in target-rich New York City are enormous. Melania Trump’s decision to stay with 10-year-old Barron at the family’s triplex penthouse means the skyscraper will need permanent new fortifications, and plans to protect Trump’s four adult children will force an already short-staffed agency ramp up its ranks.
“Operating in Manhattan is expensive, and the fact that the Secret Service has to pay, by law, for office space on protectees’ residences, plane tickets on protectees’ planes, there’s a dollar figure that I don’t think you can really estimate right now,” said Donald Mihalek, head of the Secret Service division of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
The biggest variable, Secret Service veterans say, is how much time Trump himself will actually spend in New York.
“Those costs are something that we won’t know until he establishes his travel,” said Bill Pickle, a former deputy assistant director of the Secret Service. “The New York field office is quite large. No one knows how many bodies…would have to go there.”
A Secret Service spokeswoman said the 2016 budget for “protecting persons and places” was $871.7 million – a number that includes protecting multiple principles, including foreign leaders who visit America. (The budget for protecting the president and first family is classified, and even former agents hesitated to make an estimate out of security concerns.) To pay for protecting Trump before his inauguration, the agency is still operating on its budget set aside for the campaign and transition, about $72 million for labor and travel between Oct. 1 and Jan. 20.
“At this point, we’re still looking at the size of our footprint,” said Secret Service spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan. The agency is negotiating that with Trump’s team, “like it does after every campaign,” she added.
“The only difference this time is the President-elect happens to live on Fifth Avenue,” Milhoan said.
New York – its citizens and its government – is already bearing an especially heavy burden for Trump’s security, with major closures and checkpoints on Fifth Avenue. Three unnamed city officials griped to CNN that the city is already spending a million dollars each day on Trump. Local officials have good reason to generate sympathy for the city – they’ll have an uphill battle convincing Congress to pay the city back — and City Councilmembers cited that seven-figure estimate in a petition calling for Trump to back their bid to get federal reimbursement.
But even the mayor’s office wouldn’t stand by the million-a-day claim.
“Total costs are still being determined,” said De Blasio spokesman Austin Finan, in an e-mail. But once the city does complete its calculations, they’ll be “submitted to Congressional leadership and the White House for consideration” about reimbursement for the “unprecedented” demands.
Most of those demands will be on NYPD, Finan said. The local cops rack up especially heavy overtime when the president visits the Big Apple.
For example, cops earned $460,000 during the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – slightly less than the $470,000 payout for the six hours President Barack Obama spent in New York on June 7, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. That trip included a Jimmy Fallon taping and fundraisers at two private residences; another four-hour visit in November that included a Hamilton performance and a fundraiser racked up $377,000 in NYPD overtime.
The police haven’t provided data to the Budget Office about overtime generated since Trump became the nominee.
Bernard O’Brien, a senior analyst at the nonpartisan budget agency, cautioned that the overtime figure doesn’t tell the whole story.
“We just don’t know how many additional officers are up there are straight time, not overtime,” he said in an interview. That means officers aren’t walking some other part of the city on their regular shift, and those “opportunity costs” don’t have a price tag,
“And who knows how much it’s impacting sales at Bergdorf Goodman,” he added, referring to lost tax revenue for the luxury department store just a block uptown from Trump Tower.
While the real estate is pricier and logistics more elaborate, current and former Secret Service officials say protecting a president’s private residence is standard practice – and a reasonable expectation for a commander in chief.
“It’s nothing new for the Secret Service,” said Pickle.
Of course, Manhattan is more expensive than Crawford, Texas, site of the Western White House where George W. Bush would spend weeks at a time clearing brush between security briefings during his working vacations.
The Secret Service pays Vice President Joe Biden more than $2,000 a month to rent a cottage near his home in Delaware, where he spends most weekends. And while Obama rarely visits his Chicago home, his multiweek vacations to ritzy locales have attracted conservative ire. One of Obama’s annual family vacations to Hawaii cost taxpayers an estimated $8 million, according to Judicial Watch.
But it was George H.W. Bush’s regular travel back to Kennebunkport, Maine, that led Congress to rethink how it compensates local law enforcement for presidential protection.
Usually, local law enforcement agencies are expected to deal with the costs when the president comes to town, said Pickle. But police departments in the small New England towns between New Hampshire’s Pease Air Force base and the Bush family compound complained about the repeated burden, and Congress opened up the option for the Secret Service to reimburse local officials for “constant and recurring” costs, Pickle said.
Meanwhile, the Secret Service also has several big asks from Congress. On Wednesday, the House passed a $22 million measure that would make Secret Service officers eligible for overtime pay for their work during the crowded primary season. (Like many law enforcement officers, Secret Service agents’ pay is capped.)
Agents also want more funding in general.
While the agency was allocated $2.1 billion for the campaign year, its budget for next year is around $1.9 billion – and that includes money to protect the Obama family, which is remaining in Washington rather than returning to Chicago as their younger daughter continues high school.
“That’s not a formula to succeed,” said Mihalek. It’s a longstanding complaint for an agency that faced extra scrutiny in recent years after agents were caught drinking, soliciting prostitutes in Colombia and failing to stop a man who jumped over the White House fence from entering the building.
“Our budget has not expanded the way our protective mandate has expanded since 9/11,” Mihalek said.