The price tag for armed security for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos numbers in the millions: report

The unprecedented arrangement could cost taxpayers as much as $19.8 million if continued through September 2019

Published November 16, 2018 3:34PM (EST)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Betsy DeVos has received extensive armed security from the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) since just days after being confirmed as Education Secretary. It is an around-the-clock detail that no other Cabinet official has and could cost taxpayers as much as $19.8 million if continued through September 2019, according to NBC News.

The Department of Justice did not specify who made the security request, but "former Attorney General Jeff Sessions granted the protection on Feb. 13, 2017, a few days after DeVos was heckled and blocked by a handful of protesters from entering the Jefferson Academy, a public middle school in Washington," NBC reported. DeVos was confirmed six days prior on Feb. 7.

"The order was issued after the Department of Education contacted administration officials regarding threats received by the Secretary of Education," the Justice Department said in a statement. "The USMS was identified to assist in this area based on its expertise and long experience providing executive protection."

The security provided to DeVos has come with an enormous price tag. In fiscal year 2017, it cost $5.3 million and $6.8 million the following fiscal year — according to data obtained by NBC from the USMS — an expense reimbursed by the Department of Education. For fiscal year 2019, the estimated total is $7.74 million.

For comparison, DeVos' expenses far outpace the price tag on Scott Pruitt, the embattled former Environmental Protection Administrator who resigned this summer amid public outcry about his spending and use of agency resources. "An EPA inspector general report, released Sept. 4, found the price tag for Pruitt’s security detail was 'not justified' and far exceeded the security costs incurred under past EPA heads," NBC reported.

DeVos is the only current cabinet member with USMS protection, a detail that had previously only been reserved for the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Cabinet secretaries usually rely on security coordinated by internal enforcement units in their departments and it is typically less regular. Former Education Secretaries Arne Duncan and John King Jr. did, who led the department prior to DeVos, used door-to-door security escorts.

The USMS is part of the Justice Department and described itself as the "enforcement arm of the federal courts," the agency's website says, tasked with "protecting the federal judiciary, apprehending federal fugitives, managing and selling seized assets acquired by criminals through illegal activities, housing and transporting federal prisoners and operating the Witness Security Program."

"After receiving the Marshals' protection, DeVos spent less than 4 percent of her time visiting traditional public schools in the school year that began in September 2017, according to a tabulation by NBC News and the Watchdog group American Oversight, which was founded by lawyers, including several from the Obama administration, who focus on government ethics and conflicts of interest," NBC reported, but Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told the outlet that DeVos did not request the Marshals detail.

"We’re obviously 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 escalate her detail wouldn’t have done so."

NBC's report is now another notch in DeVos' highly-contested appointment and confirmation. The Education Secretary does not have a background as an educator, but rather as a wealthy Republican donor, and was known as a staunch supporter of charter schools and for a lack of insight and experience with public schools. Vice President Mike Pence had to provide the tie-breaking vote in DeVos' confirmation, after both Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, as well as every Democrat voted against her.

Since her confirmation, DeVos has targeted Obama-era policies that were widely seen as protective of vulnerable students, rolling back guidance on how schools should handle allegations of sexual assault on campus and regulations on for-profit colleges.

Despite DeVos' substantial wealth – she's one of the richest in Trump's cabinet – her expensive security detail adds to the unique ways Trump's cabinet members have managed to spend more taxpayer money than those in past administrations.

"In addition to Pruitt, they include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose use of military jets for routine travel in the spring and fall of 2017 was estimated by a watchdog group to cost at least a $1 million; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who spent $139,000 on three sets of double doors for his office and $53,000 on three helicopter trips; and Housing Secretary Ben Carson, who drew notice for his purchase of a $31,000 mahogany dining set as part of an office renovation," according to NBC.

The publication reported that the Education Department argued that DeVos sometimes uses her private jet for travel and so she ultimately saves the government money. But DeVos' security has already amounted to $12.1 million from taxpayers over 19 months.

By Rachel Leah

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Betsy Devos Education Education Department Justice Department Security Taxpayers Trump Administration