The Trump administration is looking to the already stretched-thin US Marshals Service to take over protection duties for Cabinet-level officials not already protected by typical law enforcement personnel.
The plan, announced Thursday by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would mark a major departure from the Marshals’ primary missions to protect federal judges and witnesses, transport prisoners and apprehend fugitives, and is already causing concern about how the agency would take on the task.
Marshals around the country received word from headquarters on Wednesday that the service was preparing for the move, a source familiar with the ongoing discussions said.
The proposal was tucked into a broader plan on government reorganization the White House released on Thursday.
“Consolidate protective details at certain civilian Executive Branch agencies under the US Marshals Service in order to more effectively and efficiently monitor and respond to potential threats,” read the recommendation. “Threat assessments would be conducted with support from the US Secret Service.”
The Marshals currently provide protection for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, but that in itself is unprecedented and came shortly after her difficult confirmation and an early encounter with protesters.
The proposal said the administration “will consult with the Congress regarding any need for additional legislative authority.”
A more permanent and long term approach would involve congressional approval. Congress would have to extend the US Marshals Service’s core mission to involve protecting cabinet level secretaries who don’t have law enforcement staff at their agency and would also appropriate the money to fund the extended mission.
Reached for comment, the Marshals Service referred CNN to the Justice Department. The White House did not immediately comment on the proposal.
Question of cost and availability
The move is raising concerns about how the already burdened Marshals’ service would be able to handle the huge task. One source said deputies across the country would likely be pulled in to fulfill the mission.
“We can’t even hire enough people to handle the Marshals’ main missions – much less all these new details,” the source said.
The source added, “There’s just not enough bodies. Something has to give. Something is going to suffer – is it the protection of the judges? Is it the fugitives mission or the violent crime initiatives or witness security?
The administration’s proposal would likely come at a substantial cost. In April 2017, CNN reported DeVos’ protection was costing taxpayers upwards of $1 million per month.
Would come after bruising headlines
The reorganization would bring protection authority directly to the Marshals, while a source explained that currently, the Marshals Service has deputized personnel at agencies so those personnel can carry firearms to protect a given Cabinet head.
These security arrangements have drawn outside scrutiny, in particular towards Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Pruitt requested a full detail after his confirmation, and this has sparked headlines about the detail’s cost and Pruitt’s use of their resources, including questions about using sirens in non-emergencies.
One source familiar with the ongoing discussions said a potential benefit of this new arrangement would be greater oversight and accountability of Cabinet-level protective operations because armed personnel would fall within the Marshals’ chain of command and not report directly to the agencies to which they are assigned.
CNN’s Greg Wallace, Sara Ganim and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.