What Are the Facts?
As of the end of August 2017, the Secret Service has spent close to $60,000 on golf cart rentals. Legally, the Secret Service is obligated to protect the president and his family regardless of where they are, whether the president is at the White House, Camp David, London, Berlin or your local golf course.
When the president plays golf, as President Trump does frequently, his protection detail must follow along. Since the president uses a cart to traverse the field, his agents need carts of their own to keep up. The Service isn’t allowed to simply commandeer the golf carts without compensating the owners, so the agency has been forced to pony up for golf cart rentals.
During the winter, when Trump was mostly golfing at his Mar-a-Lago resort, the Secret Service signed contracts for golf cart rentals worth $35,185. In June, the agency paid for a pair of rental contracts worth $5,400 each. For Trump’s two-week vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey, golf cart rentals for the president’s protection detail tallied up to $13,500. In all, through the end of August 2017, the Secret Service paid for golf cart rental contracts worth $59,585.
Part of a Larger Trend
Although $60,000 seems like a princely sum for golf cart rentals to most Americans, it’s just a drop in the bucket for the Secret Service, whose budget is measured in the millions of dollars. However, the fact that the Secret Service’s golf cart budget has splashed across the headlines reflects some of the difficulties that our newest president has brought to the agency.
President Trump has a larger family than most other presidents, and he owns multiple residences and travels between them frequently. Combine that with the president’s love of golf, and it’s not too surprising that the Secret Service has racked up tens of thousands of dollars in golf cart rentals.
In fact, the president’s frequent travels have given the Secret Service a larger problem than spending more on renting golf carts than some Americans earn in a year. Many of the agents on President Trump’s security detail have already run up against their federally mandated overtime limits, forcing the agency to face several difficult scenarios to continue fulfilling their mission.
Does the Secret Service Have Any Solutions to Its Golf Cart Problems?
You might wonder if the Secret Service has any easy solutions to its golf cart problem. For example, could the Service shut down the course when the president golfs, allowing his agents to provide protection without following him around the course?
Although the Secret Service takes its protective duties seriously, the agency always tries to minimize the impact that its duties have on private citizens and businesses. Shutting down a golf course is considered too impactful when simply maintaining a perimeter around the president is sufficient. So long as fellow golfers maintain a safe distance from the president and submit to reasonable inspections, they’re allowed to play the course at the same time as the president.
Could the Secret Service save some money by buying golf carts? Again, the answer is probably no. The Secret Service hasn’t said – and probably won’t say – how many golf carts they rent for each presidential visit, but it’s likely that purchasing the golf carts outright would have cost the agency even more money.
The service would either need to have its own fleet of golf carts at each possible resort that the president might wish to visit or ship the carts between locations. The shipping would further add to their expenses, and the shipping contracts themselves could be mined for information that could potentially compromise the agency’s protection mission.
There is another possibility, however. Many of Trump’s golf outings are to properties that he himself owns, and the Secret Service is effectively renting the golf carts from the president. The president could simply donate the use of the golf carts for the Secret Service, saving the agency – and ultimately, the taxpayers – thousands of dollars.
The agency would still need to rent carts when the president golfs at resorts he doesn’t own, but donating the use of carts at Trump-owned properties would save some money for the taxpayers. Trump has not indicated that he’s considering such a move, but several lawmakers have proposed amendments to the Secret Service’s budget that would prohibit the agency from paying for rentals at Trump-owned properties.
As the saga of the Secret Service golf carts shows, it’s possible for even the most mundane things to make headlines. Will the Secret Service find ways to save money on golf carts, or will their golf cart rentals continue to be an item of scrutiny among the president’s critics?