As sequestration loomed in February, Vice President Joseph R. Biden made a symbolic gesture to save taxpayers money, offering to travel to his home in Delaware by Amtrak rather than fly on a military plane as the Secret Service preferred.
“I’ve got to take the train now. It’s cheaper than flying,” he explained, lamenting the inconvenience he was enduring during tough fiscal times.
But away from the cameras, Mr. Biden had no problem collecting, as he has for years, the same $2,200 a month he charges the Secret Service for its use of a small building on his Delaware property as a staging area to protect his family.
There was no reduction in rent, even though many federal agencies were facing spending cuts of 7.8 percent or higher during the sequester and the Secret Service publicly warned it might have to cut back its security work because of the belt-tightening.
In fact, documents obtained by The Washington Times show the Secret Service recently extended the unusual contract for another six months, through March, at the same rate it has been paying since 2011.
The White House makes no apologies for the vice president’s rental agreement. “The cottage was an existing rental property at the time the Secret Service signed its lease,” said Kendra Barkoff, a White House spokeswoman.
The latest purchase order totals $13,200 for six months’ rent. The government’s online spending database makes no mention of Mr. Biden’s role as vice president, referring to him as a sole proprietor with zero employees. The purpose of the firm, fixed price contract is listed as “rental.”
The unusual arrangement, first reported by The Times in 2011, came about after a tenant renting Mr. Biden’s cottage on his Delaware property vacated.
As vice president, Mr. Biden earns $230,700 per year. As a landlord — he’s listed as a “vendor” in government spending records — Mr. Biden stands to receive more than $20,000 in rental income. While Mr. Biden is hardly rich compared with some members of President Obama’s Cabinet, some question why he needs to collect rent from the government, too.
Mr. Biden and his wife listed $385,072 in gross adjusted income in 2012, according to tax returns released by the White House in April.
Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, said the latest lease extension seems “insulting” at a time when so much of the rest of the government is slashing spending because of the sequester.
“Where is the sense of the optics of this?” Ms. Paige said. “Nobody would argue that he and his family shouldn’t be protected, but he’s basically charging his protectors to protect him.”
Like taxpayer watchdogs, Mr. Biden has been outspoken on the need to reduce wasteful expenditures in federal government.
“If we’re going to spur jobs and economic growth and restore long-term fiscal solvency, we need to make sure hard-earned tax dollars don’t go to waste,” he said after convening a Cabinet meeting in 2011 to discuss ways to cut wasteful spending.
The Secret Service has said little about the lease deal, though a spokesman previously confirmed the arrangement to The Times.
Officials also say the cottage affords the agents a level of access to the Biden family they might not have otherwise.
Asked at the time if the Secret Service typically pays rent to protectees, the spokesman said, “It’s a rental property, so we pay rent there.”
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 assigned to Mr. Biden’s protective detail.
After his mother’s death, Mr. Biden asked the Secret Service if the agency would be interested in renting the cottage, but the agency declined. Mr. Biden found a private tenant who later moved out, at which point the Secret Service reconsidered the deal and moved in.
The Times submitted an open records request seeking a copy of the lease nearly two years ago along with other records, but officials have yet to respond.
Mr. Biden last year described to reporters what the cottage on his Delaware property looked like before he fixed it up.
“It had a little, tiny barn on it, it was like a big garage,” Mr. Biden said.
“And it was at the top of the driveway, and my brothers said I ‘gingerbreaded’ it up. I put nicer doors on it, and put shutters on the windows so it didn’t look like an old, dilapidated barn when you walked in.”