Secret Service Seeks Funding for 2012 Candidate Protection as Budget Process Idles

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan is anticipating a "very demanding and challenging" year, as the service seeks millions of dollars in additional funding to protect the 2012 presidential candidates -- though the agency's budget is still stuck in Congress.

The House has already voted to give the Secret Service $113 million for fiscal 2012 to cover protective activities relating to the presidential campaign. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a similar bill, but it has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote.

So far, Congress' track record on budget bills is not good, with the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year fast approaching. The House has passed six, the Senate has passed just one, and none of the bills has made its way to the president's desk.

Lawmakers are already working on a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running on Oct. 1 -- but the delay raises questions about whether the Secret Service will get what it needs when the presidential race moves into full swing.

An aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. -- who chairs the Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Senate appropriations panel-- downplayed the complications of the molasses-speed budget process.

"Funding for the Secret Service to carry out its duties during the 2012 election will be dealt with in the CR, if there is one," the aide said in an email. A CR, or continuing resolution, is the term for a stopgap budget bill.

Nevertheless, the Secret Service is making clear that its needs are substantial in the coming year.

In the 2008 presidential election, the agency was asked to provide protection for candidates earlier than ever before. The length of the Democratic primary process and size of the crowds at massive campaign rallies made the agency's job that much harder. This time, the Secret Service wants to be prepared for an intense season.

Sullivan, in written testimony provided Wednesday to the House Homeland Security Committee, noted that agents have already undergone training in anticipation of being assigned to protect presidential candidates.

"While much has changed in the 43 years since we began protecting presidential candidates, the challenges associated with planning and budgeting for candidate protection two years ahead of presidential campaigns remain," he said. "Forecasting staffing and costs for presidential campaigns is surrounded by a great deal of unknowns, such as the number of candidates that will run for the presidency, how much they will travel and how soon the field of candidates is selected."

The most candidates ever receiving protection during a presidential campaign was 15 -- in 1976. By contrast, there were just three in 2004.

The decision on who qualifies for Secret Service protection is made by the secretary of homeland security, along with top congressional leaders.

Nobody in the 2012 GOP field is currently receiving Secret Service protection.

The Secret Service has more on its plate than just candidate protection. According to the agency, six major events known as "national special security events" are scheduled next year, and among them are the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Congressional appropriators are trying to make sure the agency has what it needs. While the House ended up cutting overall Homeland Security funding by $1.1 billion from last year's levels, it included an increase of $155 million for the Secret Service.

Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., who chaired the hearing Wednesday, said in a written statement that the Secret Service is facing "enormous challenges, particularly in light of the upcoming presidential election year."

"It is important that they receive the necessary funds to complete their duties, including multiple National Special Security Events (NSSEs)," he said, noting that all agencies are still being asked to do "more with less."