The U.S. SECRET SERVICE: An Examination and Analysis of Its Evolving Missions


The U.S. Secret Service has two missions — criminal investigations and
protection. Criminal investigation activities, which have expanded since its inception
as a small anti-counterfeiting operation at the end of the Civil War, now encompass
financial crimes, identity theft, counterfeiting, computer fraud, and computer-based
attacks on the nation’s financial, banking, and telecommunications infrastructure,
among other areas. Protection activities, which have expanded and evolved since the
1890s, include the safety and security of the President, Vice President, their families,
and other identified individuals and locations.

In March 2003, the U.S. Secret Service was transferred from the Department of
the Treasury to the Department of Homeland Security as a distinct entity. Prior to
enactment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296), the U.S. Secret
Service had been part of the Treasury Department for over 100 years.
During an April 2008 hearing on the FY2009 budget request for the U.S. Secret
Service, Members of Congress raised questions related to the missions and
organizational location of the Service. Are the two missions of the Service
compatible and how should they be prioritized? Is the Department of Homeland
Security the most appropriate organizational and administrative location for the
Secret Service? These, and other policy questions, have been raised and addressed
at different times by Congress and various administrations during the long history of
the Service. Some may contend that these and other questions call for renewed
attention given the recent increase in demand for the Service’s protection function
(for example, see H.R. 5938 pending in the 110th Congress) and the advent of new
technology used in financial crimes.


By Shawn Reese / July 31, 2008
Analyst in Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy

Government and Finance Division