Secret Service lapses between 2005 and 2015:
- On May 10, 2005, a live grenade was tossed at President Bush in Tbilisi, Georgia.
- On November 24, 2009, Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashed President Obama's first state dinner.
- On November 11, 2011, a man fired seven shots at the White House.
- On April 12, 2012, over a dozen Secret Service agents and officers, part of the advance team for a presidential visit to Cartagena, Columbia, got drunk, hired prostitutes, and then disputed the amount owed.
- In May, 2013, a Secret Service supervisor left a bullet behind in a woman's room at the Hays Adams Hotel in Washington, DC. The subsequent investigation revealed that he and another supervisor had been sending sexually suggestive emails to a female subordinate.
- On March 24, 2014, three members of the Secret Service Counter Assault Team were sent home from the Netherlands after a drinking incident left one passed out in a hotel hallway.
- On September 16, 2014, an armed private security guard with a weapon was allowed on an elevator with the president.
- On September 19, 2014, three days later, a man jumped the White House fence and made his way into the White House.
- On March 4, 2015, two senior supervisory agents drove through a crime scene at the White House after a farewell party at a nearby bar.
Although today we are focusing only on the protective arm of the Secret Service, by 2002, in addition to everything else they did, the Secret Service had also become responsible for telemarketing fraud and identity theft. And the agency was required to "participate in the planning, coordination and implementation of security operations at special events of national significance" (Olympic Games, Super Bowls, etc., as directed by the president). The Patriot Act increased the agency's responsibility for investigating computer fraud and authorized it to "establish nationwide electronic crimes task forces."
On September 10, 2001, the Secret Service had 18 people to protect. By the end of 2003, that number had climbed to 28:
Immediately after the attacks, temporary details were mobilized for Bush’s extended family, including his grown siblings. Later, with the country at war in Afghanistan, the agency provided details for Vice President Dick Cheney’s grandchildren in addition to those for his adult daughters, Liz and Mary.
Loss of experienced staff to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and retirement
At the same time that the responsibilities were increasing, the workforce was shrinking. Hiring by the new TSA lured many from the Secret Service, according to the June 2002 edition of US News & World Report:
Defections in the elite corps of White House countersnipers, who stand watch on the roof of the presidential mansion, and even by K-9 officers, are further testing the agency's limits, sources say. After the TSA was created in November, so many uniformed officers began applying for jobs online from White House computers that the Secret Service blocked access, allowing officers to view application forms but not complete them. Secret Service brass refused time off for some officers to go to TSA for job interviews, according to service insiders. So one night, frustrated TSA recruiters showed up at the Secret Service Uniformed Division guard booth at the northwest gate of the White House to speak with job candidates
In addition, 925 senior agents retired
between 1993 and 2002, leaving the Secret Service with a huge hole where experienced leadership should have been.
White House countersniper
Funding issues under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Created in 2002, in part, as a result of the failure of the FBI and the CIA to communicate the information each had about the 9/11 hijackers, the DHS assumed responsibility for many security agencies, including the Secret Service, but not the FBI or the CIA. The TSA was added to the DHS in 2003.
While the DHS was shoveling billions of dollars into Customs and Border Protection and the TSA, the Secret Service was not seeing funding increases commensurate with their increased responsibilities. In the dozen years after 9/11, the Secret Service budget only went from $926 million to $1.58 million.
According to the Washington Post, Andy Card, chief of staff for President Bush, was forced to intervene to prevent some cuts to the Secret Service's budget that neither the DHS, nor the US Congress, felt were important. The new responsibilities added after 9/11 greatly expanded the duties of the Secret Service, but the small agency was unable to compete within the DHS for its share of the money.
So when Omar Gonzalez jumped the fence at the White House in 2011, the Secret Service did not have state-of-the-art surveillance cameras. They were only installed later. Director Clancy, while being called on the carpet by Congress for this month's lapse, asked the House Appropriations Committee for a 16.4 percent increase in the agency's budget.
The request includes $3.4 million to address attrition in the ranks of Secret Service officers who patrol the grounds and perimeter of the White House. It includes funding for upgrades to radio communications at the White House as well as $8.2 million for a two-year project to construct a taller fence around the White House grounds.
Tea party Republicans and sequestration have contributed to the financial woes as the agency's budget was cut from $1.6 billion in 2012 to $1.5 billion in 2013. The agency was forced to reduce its staff through attrition, by nearly 300, to 6,480 employees.
The Uniformed Division was seriously damaged by the reductions, and training programs were cancelled for new agents as well as for existing agents who were frequently called in to work on their days off. (How long can that go on before more agents burn out, or make mistakes while on duty?)
President Obama addressing Secret Service Uniformed Division officers
Low employee morale
There are some, like former agent Jonathan Wackrow
, who feel that the low morale can be traced back to the inclusion of agency within the DHS and the financial pressure that has put on the agency. Others, such as retired agent Dan Emmett
, feel that quality leadership is lacking in the Secret Service.
A study issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the DHS a little over a year ago, seems to support the idea that leadership is indeed lacking within the agency. One participant is quoted in the study as saying that:
disciplinary cases are always handled differently, and that the manner in which a misconduct case is managed depends on who you are and who you know.
The OIG conducted an electronic survey of 2,575 respondents and 161 in-person interviews with employees of the Secret Service. The percentage of those who strongly agreed or agreed with the following statements are shown in the table below.
|I can report a suspected violation of any law, rule, regulation, or standards of conduct without fear of retaliation
|If a senior manager engages in misconduct or illegal activity, he or she is held accountable
|If a supervisor engages in misconduct or illegal activity, he or she is held accountable.
|The Secret Service’s disciplinary process is fair.
|Disciplinary actions within the Secret Service are applied consistently for similar offenses.
|Disciplinary actions within the Secret Service are at the appropriate level of severity given the offense.
Signs of progress
The agency's new director, Joe Clancy, has only been on the job for a few months but appears to be trying to get some of the money that the Secret Service needs for protection and training—including $8 million
for a full-scale replica of White House to be built at the Secret Service training facility in Maryland.
“Right now, we train on a parking lot, basically,” Mr. Clancy said. “We put up a makeshift fence and walk off the distance between the fence at the White House and the actual house itself. We don’t have the bushes, we don’t have the fountains, we don’t get a realistic look at the White House.”
Mr. Clancy added, “It’s important to have a true replica of what the White House is so we can do a better job of this integrated training between our uniform division officers, our agents and our tactical teams.”
In addition, the budget requests funding to renovate an existing "'live-fire shoot house' and to repair and enhance a 'tactical village' training site that aims to recreate a city street environment."It is a wonder that 13 years after 9/11, the agency charged with protecting the president of the United States is lacking in what appear to be pretty basic training facilities. Since President Obama has received three times the threats of any other president, there should be a greater sense of urgency about getting this done.
In addition to funding, Clancy, in his Congressional testimony, appeared frustrated that the news of the March 4, 2015, incident was revealed to him only after a whistleblower sent an anonymous email to others within the agency.
Mr. Clancy said he had told the agency’s officials that there was “no excuse” for the delay in reporting the event.
“We had a good, stern talk about that,” Mr. Clancy told the lawmakers.
The fact that an employee had to send an anonymous email indicates that they are still afraid of retribution for reporting misconduct by supervisors. Hopefully, the fact that Clancy has taken the matter seriously and turned over the investigation to the DHS Office of Inspector General, will reassure the other employees that he wants a full and impartial investigation and intends to hold all employees accountable, regardless of rank.
Of course, only time will tell if the investigation will be done in an impartial and transparent manner. And only time will tell if the Republican Congress can get in gear and give this agency the funding it requires to field a decent corps of Secret Service agents and Uniformed Division officers and to provide them with training adequate to their tasks.
Underpaid, undertrained, and overworked, with days off regularly canceled, the majority of the agents and officers of the Secret Service have displayed a remarkable degree of dedication. They deserve the relief that full funding would provide and that only Congress can grant. And they deserve to be better served by the leadership of the agency on all levels, so that an employee who disagrees with a supervisor is unafraid to express that opinion. Quality leadership ensures that an employee who reports misconduct is protected, and unafraid of retribution.