The Former Presidents Act is a 1958 U.S. federal law that provides several lifetime benefits to former presidents of the United States.
Before 1958, the U.S. federal government provided no pension or other retirement benefits to former United States presidents. Andrew Carnegie offered to endow a US$25,000 annual pension for former Chief Executives in 1912, but congressmen questioned the propriety of such a private pension. That prompted legislation to provide benefits to former presidents.
When the Former Presidents Act took effect, there were two living former presidents: Herbert Hoover and Harry S. Truman. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to fall under the act upon leaving office.
The original act provided for lifetime Secret Service protection for former presidents. In 1997, it was reduced to 10 years for presidents taking office after 1997. The 1997 amendment was reverted by the Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012 (Pub.L. 112–257). All living former presidents and their spouses are now entitled to receive lifetime Secret Service protection.
By law, former presidents are entitled to a pension, staff and office expenses, medical care or health insurance, and Secret Service protection.
The Secretary of the Treasury pays a taxable pension to the president. Former presidents receive a pension equal to the pay that the head of an executive department (Executive Level I) would be paid, as of 2015 $203,700 per year. The pension begins immediately after a president’s departure from office. A former president’s spouse may also be paid a lifetime annual pension of $20,000 if they relinquish any other statutory pension.
Washington Transition funding for the expenses of leaving office is available for seven months. It covers office space, staff compensation, communications services, and printing and postage associated with the transition.
Staff and office
Private office staff and related funding is provided by the Administrator of the General Services Administration. Persons employed under this subsection are selected by and responsible only to the former president for the performance of their duties. Each former president fixes basic rates of compensation for persons employed for him, not exceeding an annualized total of $150,000 for the first 30 months and $96,000 thereafter.
Former presidents are entitled to medical treatment in military hospitals; they pay for this at interagency rates set by the Office of Management and Budget. Two-term presidents may buy health insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program; a GSA legal opinion ruled Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush ineligible.
Secret Service protection
Former presidents were entitled from 1965 to 1996 to lifetime Secret Service protection, for themselves, spouses, and children under 16. A 1994 statute, (Pub.L. 103–329), limited post-presidential protection to ten years for presidents inaugurated after January 1, 1997. Under this statute, Bill Clinton would still be entitled to lifetime protection, and all subsequent presidents would have been entitled to ten years’ protection. On January 10, 2013, President Barack Obama signed the Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012, reinstating lifetime Secret Service protection for his predecessor George W. Bush, himself, and all subsequent presidents.
Richard Nixon relinquished his Secret Service protection in 1985, the only president to do so.