Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos began receiving 24-hour security from the US Marshals Service days after her confirmation, something that was not provided to any other cabinet member and that could cost US taxpayers $ 19.8 million through September 2019, according to new figures provided by the Sheriff’s Department to NBC News.
While it is unclear who made the request specifically, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions granted protection on February 13, 2017, a few days after DeVos was interrupted and blocked by a handful of protesters who entered the Jefferson Academy, a public high school in Washington. DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education on February 7 of that year.
“The order was issued after the Department of Education contacted officials of the administration regarding the threats received by the Secretary of Education,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “The USMS [Marshals] were chosen to assist in this area based on their experience and their long experience in executive protection.”
The cost of security provided to DeVos was $ 5.3 million in fiscal year 2017 and $ 6.8 million for fiscal year 2018, according to the Marshals Service, an amount that is ultimately reimbursed by the Department of Education. The estimated cost for fiscal year 2019 is $ 7.74 million.
That far exceeds the $ 3.5 million spent on security for former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July amid questions about luxury spending habits during his 17-month tenure at the agency.
A general report from the EPA inspector, published on September 4, found that Pruitt’s safety label was not “justified” and far exceeded the safety costs incurred by former EPA chiefs.
Typically, cabinet secretaries are protected by security organized by the internal law enforcement units of their departments.
The two immediate predecessors of DeVos in the Department of Education, Arne Duncan and John King Jr., each followed that model. Duncan and King, who served under President Barack Obama, were served by security agents escorting them from door to door.
After receiving protection from the Marshals, DeVos spent less than 4 percent of his time visiting traditional public schools in the school year that began in September 2017, according to a tabulation by NBC News and the American Watch watchdog group, which It was founded by lawyers, including several from the Obama administration, who focus on government ethics and conflicts of interest.
No other official of the current cabinet has received the protection of the Marshals, the agency confirmed. In the past, only the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy received protection from the agency.
The Marshals Service operates within the Department of Justice and has duties that include “protecting the federal judiciary, arresting federal fugitives, administering and selling seized assets acquired by criminals through illegal activities, harboring and transporting federal prisoners, and operating the Security Program. of Witnesses “, according to the agency’s website.
Nikki Credic-Barrett, a spokeswoman for the Marshals, declined to comment on the nature of the threats against DeVos and whether they are different from those faced by other cabinet members. A former Duncan spokeswoman said she had received death threats at work, but never received the protection of the Marshals.
The Department of Education spokeswoman, Liz Hill, said DeVos had not personally requested protection.
“Obviously we are not at liberty to discuss the nature of the threats,” Hill said. “But it should be obvious that they are significant, otherwise the trained professionals who made the call to extend their protection would not have done it.”
But, he added, “if someone made a decision outside that range, then that evaluation deserves to be reviewed.”
DeVos, a charter school advocate whose brother, Erik Prince, founded the security company Blackwater USA, was one of the most controversial candidates in Trump’s cabinet due to his lack of familiarity with public schools and his history as donor of the Republican Party that advocated the widespread dismissal of public school teachers.
Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote to confirm DeVos in 2017 after Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined all the Democrats to vote against his nomination.
While spending on the personal safety of DeVos, the Trump administration has ordered the Department of Education to make deep budget cuts. Recently, the administration announced a plan to merge it with the Department of Labor as a way to further reduce costs.
The $ 12.1 million that American taxpayers have already paid for the additional security that DeVos receives would have paid 1,968 Pell scholarships for low-income college students for the next school year or 268 new elementary teachers in Kansas, according to a NBC review of the salary averages in the state.
A Justice Department official told NBC that the government generally implements the protection of the Marshals Service when there is a “specific” and “potentially temporary” threat.
However, the agreement for DeVos has lasted about 19 months, and the Department of Education no longer employs the security officers used by the heads of previous agencies, according to Hill, the department spokeswoman.
The costly security agreement for DeVos is the most recent example of Trump’s cabinet members and other officials who use much more taxpayers’ money than officials of previous administrations (although the Department of Education maintains that DeVos saves government money when using your private jet for some trips).
Besides Pruitt, it has transcended the case of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose use of military aircraft for routine travel in the spring and fall of 2017 was estimated by a supervisory group that will cost at least $ 1 million; Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who spent $ 139,000 on three sets of double doors for his office and $ 53,000 on three trips by helicopter; and Housing Secretary Ben Carson, who called attention to his purchase of a $ 31,000 mahogany dining game as part of a renovation of an office.