- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

The U.S. Secret Service does more than protect Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — the agency also pays him rent.

Since April, Mr. Biden has collected more than $13,000 from the agency charged with protecting him and his family for use of a rental cottage adjacent to the waterfront home he owns in a Wilmington, Del., suburb.

Mr. Biden, listed not as vice president in federal purchasing documents but as a “vendor,” is eligible for up to $66,000 by the time the government contract expires in the fall of 2013, the records show.

Officials say the arrangement came about when a previous tenant moved out of the cottage and the Secret Service moved in.

Edwin M. Donovan, special agent in charge at the Secret Service’s Office of Government and Public Affairs in Washington, said the agency pays $2,200 in rent per-month, the same amount a previous tenant had paid before moving out.

He said the close location provides a level of security for the Biden family the agency might not have had otherwise. Asked if the Secret Service typically pays rent to the people it protects, he said, “It’s a rental property so we pay rent there.”

Taxpayer watchdogs say the Secret Service should do everything it can to protect Mr. Biden, but they wonder whether he should be collecting rent from the agency while it’s doing its job.

“He should be afforded every single protection available to him and his family, as should every vice president and president,” said Leslie Paige, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Citizens Against Government Waste.

“But this arrangement seems bizarre to me,” she added. “You’d think the vice president, who shepherded the deficit committee, would think twice about charging the Secret Service rent. Why would he need the money? I don’t get it.”

According to Mr. Biden’s office, the vice president’s mother lived in the cottage until she died in January 2010. At that time, the Secret Service had been renting properties in the Wilmington area for agents who were providing a protective presence at Mr. Biden’s personal residence.

Mr. Biden later asked the Secret Service if the agency wanted to rent the cottage property, but the Secret Service declined and Mr. Biden rented it instead to a private tenant, according to the vice president’s office. But almost a year later, when that tenant moved out, the Secret Service approached Mr. Biden about renting the cottage.

“The cottage was an existing rental property at the time the Secret Service signed its lease,” said Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Mr. Biden.

Last year, Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, reported earning $379,178, including $11,000 in income from the cottage, according to the Bidens’ tax return. The Bidens did not list any rental income for 2009.

The Secret Service was the contracting agency on the two purchase orders so far that have paid Mr. Biden $13,200 combined for use of his cottage.

The first purchase order to Mr. Biden, for $2,200, was signed April 1, and the second, for $11,000, was signed June 2. The records both list Mr. Biden by name as the vendor under a section of the purchase order called “contractor information.” The purchase order describes Mr. Biden as a sole proprietor with no employees and no annual revenue.

The Washington Times inquired about the rental arrangement after Mr. Biden’s name appeared as a vendor in federal spending records. As the vendor on a fixed-price contract, Mr. Biden technically now is a federal contractor.

He’s been outspoken in calling for greater accountability in federal contracts. When Mr. Biden and President Obama launched the “Campaign to Cut Waste” last month, Mr. Biden said, “The President and I are committed to changing the way government works and we are stepping up the hunt for misspent dollars.”

During the presidential transition, Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama pledged to end the abuse of no-bid contracting and require competitive bidding on nearly all contract orders for more than $25,000 across the federal government.

Though the overall rental contract has a total value of up to $66,000, the agreement was approved through simplified acquisition procedures that do not require bidding.

“To an outside observer who pays the taxes that help fund protective services, this might seem like an odd arrangement, but apparently there’s some law or administrative procedure that facilitates it,” said Pete Sepp, vice president of the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, which monitors federal spending.

Mr. Sepp also had a thought on what Mr. Biden could do with the rent money he collects from the Secret Service: “Every elected official can do the same thing average Americans can, which is to write a check to the Bureau of the Public Debt to bring down the national debt.”

The Secret Service, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, is required by law to ensure the safety of current and former national leaders and their families, such as the president, past presidents, vice presidents and presidential candidates.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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