Secret Service officers caught sleeping on duty, agency issued formal warning

© Jonathan Ernst
After two US Secret Service officers were caught sleeping on the job, a federal watchdog issued a formal warning to the agency about the security risks of overworking employees.

The alert stems from an incident involving a number of radio response failures that were observed after a knife-wielding man climbed over the White House fence in September 2014. The Department of Homeland Security has subsequently been conducting routine checks of the Secret Service’s facilities and communications equipment. During their visits, they reportedly found two officers napping on the job, one at the White House and the other at an embassy post.

Inspector General John Roth blamed this lack of alertness on the broader problem of the agency having too few employees that it is subsequently overscheduling. But Secret Service leaders have a different explanation: In one of the cases, an agent had taken cold medicine that made him drowsy on the day that he fell asleep, government officials said. The agent apparently had a very full work schedule only on paper, but much of it was spent sitting and sleeping while flying in the back of a military plane from President Barack Obama’s trip to Kenya.

The Secret Service has been troubled by a series of embarrassing incidents in the recent past. In the wake of the September 2014 fence-jumper incident, when an intruder managed to make it through the front door of the executive mansion before he was stopped, many officers complained about how often they are forced to work on their days off due to staffing shortages.

Roth last issued a managerial alert in April over concerns about failing security systems at the residences of former presidents who are under Secret Service protection.

“These notifications are used by the OIG to inform senior DHS managers of conditions which pose an immediate and serious threat of waste, fraud and abuse in agency programs,” the inspector general’s website reads. “These alerts, usually triggered by findings made in the course of our audit, inspections and investigative work, may also contain recommendations to correct the identified concerns.”

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy reportedly said that improving staffing numbers his top priority when he took the job in February. An Obama administration-appointed panel recommended increasing staff numbers by 85 agents and 200 officers to balance out the hours with the necessary posts.