White House breach raises questions about Secret Service pay and oversight

An officer with the uniformed division of the Secret Service. An officer with the uniformed division of the Secret Service. Alex Brandon/AP

A security breach at a White House state dinner last week has prompted questions about whether the Secret Service needs more staff, and how oversight of the incident should be conducted.

"I think this situation sort of coincides with the Secret Service Uniformed Division's request for more funding," said Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents some Secret Service officers. "Underfunded translates into having not enough bodies to cover all shifts. You spread your workforce too thin….Something like this almost proves the point."

The Uniformed Division has protected the White House, its grounds and inhabitants since 1860. In October, President Obama signed the fiscal 2010 spending bill for the Homeland Security Department, which now houses the Secret Service. That budget did not include a request for $4 million to reorganize the Uniformed Division and to update its pay policies. Currently, the division is governed by pay rules under the District of Columbia Code rather than Title V, which oversees federal pay and personnel policies. The reorganization would bring Uniformed Division pay in line with other federal agencies.

"The goal of this modernization effort is to improve the work environment of the UD in order to more effectively recruit and retain the talent necessary to carry out its protective mission," the department wrote in its budget request. "Addressing the current recruiting and retention issues in the UD will ultimately lead to a more stable workforce and reduced overtime expenditures."

Congressional appropriators denied the request on the grounds that other committees were working on reauthorizing the Uniformed Division and appropriations for reorganization should fall under their jurisdiction.

The department also asked for money to add 319 agents to the Secret Service, increasing the workforce from 6,736 to 7,055 at a cost of $72.8 million. The Homeland Security appropriations legislation gave the department an additional $70 million for salaries and expenses in fiscal 2010.

Adler said the Fraternal Order of Police had met with key lawmakers to advocate for the reorganization, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association broadly supported of the effort. He said as unfortunate as the security breach at the state dinner had been, it could bring attention to the service's staffing problems.

But he criticized lawmakers such as House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who has called a Thursday hearing on the security breach, and asked the couple who crashed the state dinner to testify.

"This is a time for answers, recognition of security deficiencies past and present, and remedies to ensure the strength of the Secret Service and the safety of those under its protection," Thompson said in a statement. "My confidence in the management of the Secret Service hangs in the balance."

Thompson's staff did not respond to questions about whether the hearing would take into account the couple's pursuit of a reality show contract, or FLEOA's request that the Secret Service be allowed to finish an internal review of the incident before proceeding with public congressional hearings.

"We're losing sight of the most important issue here, which is not the celebrity quest of two uninvited guests," Adler said. "I think we should trust the Secret Service to understand what happened. They are the experts at executive protection….There is entirely too much emphasis being placed on these two glory hounds."

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