Publication Date

8-22-2008

Abstract

[Excerpt] The Former Presidents Act (FPA; 3 U.S.C. § 102 note) charges the General Services Administration (GSA) with providing former Presidents a pension, support staff, office support, travel funds, and mailing privileges. The FPA was enacted to “maintain the dignity” of the Office of the President by giving a former President — and his or her spouse — certain benefits so that he would not have to enter unsuitable occupations after leaving office. Former Presidents currently receive a pension that is equal to pay for the head of an executive department (Executive Level I), which was $191,300 as of January 1, 2008.

The FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act allocated $2,478,000 for pensions and GSA assistance to former Presidents. The President’s FY2009 budget requested $2,934,000 for expenditures for former Presidents. Pending House and Senate appropriations legislation recommends the requested amount.

Prior to 1958, former Presidents leaving office received no pension or federal assistance. After leaving office, some former Presidents — including Ulysses S. Grant and Harry S Truman — struggled financially. In 1912, industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie unveiled a plan to pay $25,000 pensions to all future former Presidents and their widows. The pensions were to be funded by the Carnegie Foundation of New York. Some Members of Congress and the public suggested it was inappropriate for a private company to pay pensions to former Presidents. Legislation was introduced that year to grant public pensions to former Presidents, but none of the bills were reported from committee. William Howard Taft, the only former President who was then eligible for Carnegie’s offer, refused the pension.

Since 1962, the U.S. Secret Service has provided protection to former Presidents because of their status as “visible national symbol[s].” Protection has subsequently been expanded to cover a former President’s wife until death or remarriage. Minor children of former Presidents who are under 16 years of age also receive protection. In 1994, the law was amended to limit U.S. Secret Service coverage to 10 years for any President, and his spouse, who left office after January 1, 1997. President George W. Bush will be the first former President affected by this statutory change.

In the 110th Congress, Representative John Conyers introduced a bill (H.R. 5938) that would extend U.S. Secret Service Protection to a Vice President, his or her spouse, and family for up to six months after leaving office. Currently, Secret Service protection for a Vice President and his or her family is provided on an ad hoc basis.

This report describes the benefits Presidents receive upon leaving office, details the history of the FPA, and analyzes some legislative options for the 110th Congress related to former Presidents.

Comments

Ginsberg, W. (2008). Former Presidents: Pensions, office allowances, and other federal benefits (RL34631). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/key_workplace/542/

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