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The Perks of Being a Former President

With a net worth estimated at $55 million, and having earned nearly $125 million (mostly from speaking engagements) since leaving office in 2001, it's no secret that Bill Clinton is one of the wealthiest former Presidents in history. Each of the 3 other living ex-Presidents, including both Bushes and Jimmy Carter, are all estimated to have holdings of at least $7 million as well. However, all are still entitled to a number of taxpayer-funded benefits that total in the millions of dollars.

Under the Former Presidents Act (FPA), which was enacted into law in 1958, ex-Chief Executives are provided pensions, support staff, mail & office expense funds, and travel reimbursement, in addition to Secret Service protection. Prior to the law's enactment, former Presidents received no pension or other type of benefits. The legislation was originally intended to ease the transition into post-presidential life, during which Presidents are expected to brief the incoming administration and generally wind down the affairs of their own.

Currently, former Presidents are entitled to a pension equal to the salary of the head of an executive department -- in 2013, that is equal to $199,700 per year. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, former Presidents are also authorized to spend:

  • $1,000,000 per year on travel (in addition to $500,000 for former First Ladies);
  • $150,000 per year on office staff (after 30 months, this amount is reduced to $96,000);
  • Any amount required for a "suitable office space, appropriately furnished and equipped," located anywhere in the United States.

The use of taxpayer funds to subsidize former Presidents' private activities has been well documented over the years. Additionally, CRS has compiled extensive data comparing the extent to which former Presidents have utilized these benefits:

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which is in charge of carrying out the provisions of the Act, requested over $3.5 million for FPA expenses in Fiscal Year 2014.

Some in Congress and the news media have expressed concern over how former Presidents are using the public resources the law affords them. The New York Times reported earlier this month that President Clinton's non-profit foundation has been experiencing financial and legal instability (to which Mr. Clinton personally responded). In the 112th Congress, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R. 4093, the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act. That bill would have capped pension benefits for former Presidents at $200,000; repeal the travel, office, and staff expense privileges; and reduced annual benefits by $1 for every dollar earned above $400,000 in any fiscal year. The bill was referred to committee, but no further action was taken.

Former Presidents, especially, hold a unique position in the public sphere even after they leave the White House. While some have historically been less financially secure in their private lives than others, as the costs to provide post-service benefits consistently reaches into the millions of dollars, a re-examination of the benefits (in particular, those not related to security) provided to former Presidents would certainly be in the interest of all taxpayers.