House committee calls Secret Service an agency in ‘crisis’
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Secret Service is an agency “in crisis,” tarnished by scandals that have eroded its prestige and plagued by low morale, according to a House committee’s critical report.
The yearlong investigation also found 143 security breaches or attempted breaches over the past 10 years at facilities secured by the agency.
Several breaches, including some involving President Barack Obama, were not disclosed before, according to the review released Thursday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The review follows a series of high-profile scandals, including one with South American prostitutes, and multiple security breaches involving Obama and the White House. The report cited leadership failings at the agency and congressional budget cuts that have led to a “staffing crisis.”
The White House said Obama has “absolute” confidence in the agency’s director, Joe Clancy, who once headed the president’s security detail.
The committee has been investigating the agency since details of the April 2012 prostitution scandal became public. Three directors have led the Secret Service in the past three years and multiple agents and officers, including senior officials, have been fired, transferred or disciplined in recent years as details of scandals and security breaches have become public.
“This report reveals that the Secret Service is in crisis,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
“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.”
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s top Democrat, said the report could serve as a warning to Congress that lawmakers “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.”
Most recently it was revealed that dozens of agents used a secure government database to view Chaffetz’s decade-old, unsuccessful Secret Service job application beginning 18 minutes after the start of hearing focused on allegations of drunken driving involving two senior agency officials.
The committee’s investigation also found new information about past scandals, including the Colombia prostitution case.
The report said the Secret Service’s own investigation of that incident uncovered multiple emails between agents and officers discussing the trip and alluding to plans to enjoy their surroundings.
One email described the motto of the trip as “una mas cerveza por favor,” or “one more beer please.” Another mentioned a list of things an agent planned to bring, including “swag cologne,” ″pimp gear” and cash for prostitutes.
The committee found that agents failed to properly screen armed security guards who were near Obama during a September 2014 visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. During that trip Obama rode an elevator with an armed contractor who had not been checked out.
Then-Director Julia Pierson was fired after The Washington Post published details of that incident. Clancy took over this year.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that, while the agency has work to do to overcome “some significant challenges,” Clancy’s “commitment and capacity to implement those reforms is significant. The president has strong confidence in his ability to continue to lead” the agency.
The committee also found evidence of undisclosed security breaches, including a February incident in which two people gained access to the outer security perimeter of the White House by walking in unnoticed.
The report highlighted an incident in October 2014 in when an unauthorized woman was able to get back stage at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus event that Obama attended.
The 438-page report also found that the agency is understaffed and agents and officers are overworked.
The committee said the agency’s staffing crisis started in 2011 amid government-wide budget cuts. The agency has fewer employees today than a year ago, despite recommendations from an independent panel that staffing be increased.
The committee blamed the staffing situation on “significant (budget) cuts ... systemic mismanagement at (the Secret Service) that has been unable to correct these shortfalls and declining employee morale leading to attrition.”
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