The embattled Secret Service should have an easier time firing misbehaving employees, agency director Joseph Clancy told a bicameral panel of lawmakers on Tuesday.
Clancy continually agreed with members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Homeland Security committees as they deplored recent scandals involving Secret Service employees, a lack of leadership at the agency and the need for increased accountability. He promised that some employees have already been disciplined and promised to further punish supervisors as external investigations are concluded.
Among non-Senior Executive Service employees, Clancy said the agency will propose 42 suspensions ranging from three to 12 days. He added the Secret Service must do more and repeated many of the criticisms lobbed by the lawmakers.
“Reprehensible, embarrassing,” Clancy said, summarizing the committee members’ assessments of some of his employees’ actions. “I agree with everything that’s been said today, and so does my workforce.”
He acknowledged, however, his words would not be sufficient.
“I also understand that apologies and expressions of anger are not enough,” Clancy said. “Appropriate discipline is being administered in accordance with [Homeland Security Department] and Secret Service policy. I am confident that the actions regarding the individuals involved will be prompt, fair and appropriate.”
Several lawmakers made clear they were not satisfied with the actions proposed by the Secret Service, saying employees should be fired. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the governmental affairs committee, said, “there’s nothing more corrosive in an organization with a cultural problem” than allowing malfeasance to go unpunished. Johnson specifically asked Clancy if he would like Congress to provide additional authority to take disciplinary action more quickly, to which the director said he would.
In dealing with recent scandals at their own agencies, leaders at the Veterans Affairs Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Drug Enforcement Agency have all asked Congress for more authority in removing employees. To date, Congress has only made good on VA’s request.
While Clancy blamed civil service protections afforded to federal employees for holding him back from taking more immediate or severe actions, some lawmakers did not buy the excuse.
“Why so slow?” asked Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., of the time it has taken for the Secret Service to hold employees accountable. “Systematic, shmysteshmatic. You’re the chief; you’ve got the head of Homeland Security [on your side]. Let’s go.”
Clancy said the Secret Service would publish all the final disciplinary actions to the entire workforce to boost transparency and demonstrate he is dealing with the bad apples. In addition to heightened staffing levels and training, Clancy said accountability would improve the sinking morale at the agency. He conceded part of the issues stem from the top ranks.
“It starts with me,” Clancy said.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said the misconduct at the Secret Service -- and what the congressman saw as insufficient discipline -- could signal more pervasive problems throughout the federal workforce.
“If it happened at the Service, what’s to say any other federal agency is any better?” Perry asked.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., called for a cultural shift at the agency -- as did just about ever lawmaker present at the hearing Tuesday -- but defended federal employees at large.
“We have a tremendous number of people that work in the federal workforce that are great people,” Lankford said, “that generally love the country and love what their job is.” The problem, he added, is the small fraction, “the 1 percent,” that engage in misconduct. Lankford also said if the tables were flipped, there would be a lot more than 1 percent of Congress involved in embarrassing activity.
To turn things around at the Secret Service, Lankford proposed making the overtime system more consistent, holding managers accountable, providing agents with the newest technologies and providing a more consistent career track. The situation, he said, could be worse.
“No one’s been shot,” Lankford said. “There’s just some things that are messed up.”