Are U.S. Secret Service agents living too high on the hog in San Diego?
That's one of the findings suggested by a newly released audit of the presidential protection and financial crime investigative agency by the Government Accountability Office, bearing the prosaic title "Data Analysis Could Better Inform the Domestic Field Office Structure."
"The Secret Service’s domestic offices predominately carry out the agency’s investigative mission of various financial and electronic crimes and play an integral role in providing protection," notes the audit.
"GAO’s analysis of Secret Service data from fiscal years 2009 through 2014 found that domestic offices removed at least $18 million in counterfeit funds from circulation annually, and coordinated with state and local partners to support between 5,597 and 6,386 protective visits each year."
But some offices are more efficient than others.
Says the report, dated February 11: "On the basis of our analysis of Secret Service–provided cost and performance data for fiscal years 2011 through 2014, we determined that the San Diego, Boston, Pittsburgh, Honolulu, and Houston Field Office Districts had the highest average cost per special agent relative to their performance."
Conversely, "the Richmond, St. Louis, Baltimore, Little Rock, Birmingham, and Indianapolis Field Office Districts had the lowest average cost per special agent."
The audit goes on to say that "In terms of cost relative to performance, the highest average cost district on a per agent basis (San Diego) cost 1.7 times more than the lowest average cost district (Richmond)."
Adds the document, "Overall, this indicates that compared with their peers, districts with higher average costs per agent could become more efficient at meeting the agency’s needs given expended resources, and there may be opportunities to leverage practices from districts with lower average costs per agent."
Part of the problem, the audit adds, is that with fewer VIPs coming through town, there isn't as much work for the agents to do in San Diego and other lower performing Secret Service cities.
Notes the audit, "the Richmond and Baltimore Field Office Districts likely had lower costs per special agent because in addition to the high number of background investigations they conduct, they also receive several performance points for the high volume of protection events and visits they handle in support of the Washington, D.C., District."
But in addition to fewer presidential visits, the document says, the rate of prosecution of white-collar financial crime requiring Secret Service investigation is lower in San Diego, with border-related drug and immigrant transgressions drawing most of the U.S. Attorney’s attention.
"The Pittsburgh and San Diego Field Office Districts may not be as cost-effective as the other districts because of the limited number of cases prosecuted at the federal level. For instance, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the San Diego District, according to these same officials, prioritizes narcotics and immigration cases over financial and electronic crime cases."
Rather than increase prosecution of the city's financial and computer miscreants, possible downsizing of the local Secret Service office may be in order so that agents here don't have so much free time on their hands, the audit suggests.
"By identifying the districts with higher and lower costs per special agent, the Secret Service could examine how to further maximize its domestic field office structure and ensure that its mission needs are not only effectively, but efficiently, met as well," says the document.
"The Secret Service could use these insights on the efficiency of special agents in these districts gained from this type of an analysis to inform decisions it makes regarding the placement and size of its domestic offices."