“An agency in crisis”: Secret Service security blunders detailed in House report

© Jonathan Ernst
The Secret Service is in need of more manpower, more funding, and a narrower mission, according to a bipartisan House panel. The new report says facilities secured by the agency have suffered 143 breaches or attempted breaches in the last 10 years.

After a series of high-profile embarrassments over the last few years, many of which happened at the White House, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded in the report released on Thursday that the Secret Service is an “agency in crisis.” It blamed systemic mismanagement by agency leadership and budget cuts for leading to a “staffing crisis,” as well as declining morale.

“This report reveals that the Secret Service is in crisis,” Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the committee, said. “Morale is down, attrition is up, misconduct continues and security breaches persist. Strong leadership from the top is required to fix the systemic mismanagement within the agency and to restore it to its former prestige.”

The Secret Service’s ranks have declined even as its mission has expanded, from 7,024 employees in 2011 to 6,315 today, according to the report.

The committee has been investigating the Secret Service since an April 2012 scandal over agents bringing prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Colombia. In addition to revealing new security lapses, the probe has provided more details on previously-known embarrassments.

Vice President Joe Biden’s home in Delaware was breached in April 2013, when four young adults decided to go fishing in his backyard. They weren’t discovered until neighbors called the Secret Service to report the intrusion, according to the report.
In spring 2014, a Czech citizen with an expired visa was able to enter the Texas home of former-President George H.W. Bush and remained undetected for almost an hour, according to the report. The breach was made possible by a malfunctioning alarm system that had already been documented.

The report also revealed new details about an incident when a man posing as a representative gained entry to an event and was escorted backstage to meet and talk with President Obama. The breach was reported at the time, but it was not known previously that the impostor had gotten so close to the president.

The report concluded that the last three Secret Service heads, including current director Joseph Clancy, had provided false information to the committee while being questioned about incidents and operations. For example, Clancy gave inaccurate information about an armed man getting into an elevator with Obama, according to the report. The director said that no other armed security contractors had come close to the president, but an internal review of the incident revealed that there had been several unscreened armed guards in the area.

When news of the 2012 prostitution scandal broke, then-Secret Service director Mark Sullivan testified that the behavior of the agents involved did not indicate a larger problem within the Secret Service. However, the probe found that several agency employees had previously acknowledged to agency investigators that they had solicited prostitutes domestically and abroad.

Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), the top democrat on the panel, said that he expected the report would be approved unanimously by both the Democrats and Republicans on the panel.

“This bipartisan report warns that Congress cannot make some of the biggest budget cuts in the history of the Secret Service and expect no repercussions to the agency’s staffing and its critical mission,” Cummings said in a statement.