Those tasked with protecting the President of the United States are working without pay for the 27th day as the partial government shutdown heads toward its fifth week. Agents of the United States Secret Service say they’re continuing to carry out their mission, but morale and daily operations are beginning feel the effects of the lingering shutdown.
“There are a lot of people that are having financial hardships for it, and people are kind of bracing for impact,” a Secret Service agent tells CNN.
Another agent warns special agents and uniformed division officers working without pay is not only hurting morale, but can also be dangerous.
“If you’ve got guys thinking about how they’re going to make their house payment, I can just tell you, you’re not doing your job right. Your head is not in the right place – this is affecting people,” one of the agents who was granted anonymity out of fear of speaking to the press told CNN.
The Secret Service employs 7,222 people, nearly 6,000 of whom are working without pay while more than 1,200 are furloughed since they were not deemed essential, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s shutdown plans.
The Secret Service, which falls under DHS like the US Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration, has field offices around the world and is not only responsible for protecting the President of the United States and his family but also foreign dignitaries and embassies within the US, in addition to carrying out their core mission of investigating financial crimes.
Employees tell CNN critical and support are working, but the reduction in staff still impacts their work.
“It’s cutting off certain functions that help us just do our jobs,” one member of the Secret Service told CNN. “Getting funding to get vital equipment we need. We drive things, things break. We do things and things break. We already operate with old equipment – we’ve been underfunded and understaffed for so many years now, and it’s going to catch up to us.”
A DHS official tells CNN hotel and flight expenses for agents who are required to travel for protection are paid for directly by the Secret Service. Any other expenses incurred on trips are paid out of pocket because travel vouchers aren’t being processed, but USSS is trying to work as best as it can with agents to make sure they are taken care of, the official says. Cash advance options are being promoted and encouraged as much as possible.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement: “We have the deepest respect for the brave men and women of the United States Secret Service and couldn’t be more grateful for the work they do every single day.”
One agent tells CNN, much like the general public, opinions on the shutdown vary throughout the agency, but nobody is happy about working without a paycheck, and families are beginning to have conversations about what their financial breaking point is.
“There are people that are saying I like this job and I’ll put up with it for as long as I can, but I know if this government shutdown continues than financially I can’t do that to my family. I will have to go somewhere else,” the agent said.
Another agent tells CNN the majority doesn’t care about the politics of the shutdown, they just want to get paid. “Most people don’t care about politics. This isn’t about the wall … when guys are having a hard time paying the bills and making ends meet, nobody wants to hear about that,” the agent said.
The agent said one of his colleagues who does support the President’s insistence on continuing the shutdown until he gets funding to building a wall along the southern border had to apply for food stamps in order to feed his family.
“One guy is literally going to get food stamps today because he’s a single source of income for his family, and he was saying, ‘You know what, I support [President Trump], and I think we ought to continue the shutdown as long as we need, because I support what he’s doing. And he can do that, and I’ll go get food stamps.’ “
A separate agent telling CNN, “I didn’t work to get to the point that I am – years in the military and law enforcement – to go get on food stamps.”
CNN law enforcement analyst and former Special Agent Jonathan Wackrow warns a lagging shutdown can lead to issues with Secret Service personnel’s security clearances.
“If their credit score goes below a certain level, they lose their clearance levels to operate at the highest level of the government, so (sensitive compartmented information) clearance and (top secret) clearances could be at jeopardy because of mounting debt,” Wachrow said. “So, in the back of their mind as they are executing on the core mission, they know there’s a downstream effect that could impact their job and their job performance.”
While frustration builds within the Secret Service, all of the agents and officers CNN spoke to share one message – regardless of pay, they have a job to do and a mission to serve.
“One thing that is pretty consistent though, we’re going to continue to do our job no matter what,” one agent tells CNN. “We’re going to do our job whether we’re paid or not and that’s just how we are as an organization. That’s the culture – that we work through it and say we’re here do to it and we’re going to do it. We’re going to power through.”
CNN’s Jessica Dean contributed to this story.