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Trump Wants To Move The U.S. Secret Service Back To Treasury

NOEL KING, HOST:

After the attacks of 9/11, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security. It glued together 22 established federal agencies into one piece. One of them was the U.S. Secret Service. Now the Trump administration wants to break off the Secret Service from the Department of Homeland Security and return it to its earlier home, the Department of the Treasury. NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It made sense that the Secret Service was originally part of the Treasury Department. The agency began as a way to investigate and stop counterfeiters, which was a big problem for the government back in the mid-1800s. The Secret Service didn't start what we now think of as its main function, protecting presidents, until Grover Cleveland in 1894. The terrorist strikes on 9/11 changed the way Washington thought about security, says Frank Cilluffo, who went to work for the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.

FRANK CILLUFFO: Post-9/11 when security issues took - not only were priorities for the government but for the country as a whole, I think nestling the Secret Service in the Department of Homeland Security made a whole lot of sense and quite honestly I still think does make a whole lot of sense.

NAYLOR: The service now has a wide array of duties, from protecting the president and candidates for president and the White House to cybersecurity. There was always opposition within the Secret Service to the move to DHS in the first place. Former agent Jonathan Wackrow says it's those traditionalists who are pushing to return the service to Treasury.

JONATHAN WACKROW: Employees who understood that the mission at the time was really focused especially around investigations, was focused primarily on crimes against the Treasury, so counterfeiting, bank fraud, credit card fraud, you know, protecting our financial infrastructure.

NAYLOR: Wackrow, who is now director of Teneo Risk, a business advisory group, says decoupling the Secret Service from DHS won't be easy.

WACKROW: This isn't just shifting the letterhead on top of a business card. This is fundamentally changing one of the most premier law enforcement agencies in the country. And there's going to be a cost around that. There's administrative costs. There are training costs.

NAYLOR: In a statement it released last week, the White House said the proposed move would help Treasury better protect the nation's financial infrastructure and payment systems and said it's supported by the current and recent Secret Service directors and former presidents of both parties. Frank Cilluffo, who is now director of Auburn University's McCrary Institute, worries other agencies might be inspired to begin their own lobbying efforts to break off from DHS.

CILLUFFO: I think it could be debilitating to the Department of Homeland Security, and more importantly, it would bring us back to a security posture pre-9/11.

NAYLOR: But moving the Secret Service back to the Treasury Department is not going to be easy to accomplish. Congress will want to hold hearings and need to eventually approve bipartisan legislation, which has yet to be introduced.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.