WASHINGTON — Taking advantage of a loophole, retired Secret Service agents have been allowed to begin second federal careers with full salaries while collecting government pensions--"double dipping" forbidden to other federal civilian workers.
The money can be substantial. On top of their federal pensions--under a plan that paid out an average of $42,768 per retiree last year--the former agents draw annual salaries ranging from $60,000 to $122,000 in their new federal jobs, according to pension data and employee records.
It's all part of a legal loophole, now closed, that allows agents hired before 1984 and participating in a District of Columbia pension program to retire after 20 years, collect a pension paid by the federal government and take a second government job with full pay.
"It's sending my kids to school," said William Wasley, an agent during the Nixon administration who is now director of investigations for the U.S. Forest Service. On top of his $110,000 salary, he receives a $44,600-a-year pension, according to a source familiar with the pension who spoke only on condition of anonymity. That gives Wasley an income that exceeds a Cabinet member's salary of $151,800.
"It's a costly program, but the government gets seasoned, well-trained investigators," Wasley said.
Current rules, designed to control personnel costs, require federal retirees to take a reduction in their new salaries equal to the amount of their pensions. Because of a quirk in the law, the rules don't apply to some pre-1984 Secret Service workers.
Many military people retire and take government jobs. But when they do they lose a portion of their military pensions.
"If you're doing a survey of taxpayers, I'd check the box marked 'outraged,' " said Tom Devine, a lawyer for the Government Accountability Project, a private Washington-based watchdog group.
The Secret Service says it didn't create the system. But a spokesman defended the practice of bringing agents back into government work.
"It's our position that an individual retiring from the Secret Service has a tremendous amount of investigative and protection service to provide," Arnette Heinze said.
Secret Service agents, many of whom begin their careers in their 20s and 30s, can retire after 20 years. In their second jobs, they can qualify for federal pensions after working five years and meeting age requirements.
"It raises the question of whether taxpayers should be saddled with paying these people two pensions, even after they paid for the double dip," said George Nesterczuk, staff director of a House subcommittee on civil service.