Secret Service Fails to Address Its ‘Historic Attrition’

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy Andrew Harnik/AP

The Secret Service has even fewer full-time employees than in 2014 when a panel found the embattled agency had “immediate staffing needs,” leaving lawmakers irritated over the agency's sluggish pace of hiring.

The law enforcement agency is failing to deal with “historic attrition rates,” wrote Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee's ranking member, in a letter to Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy. Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson created an independent panel in 2014 after a series of scandals to conduct a comprehensive review of the Secret Service. The panel, among its findings, identified a significant staffing shortage.

The Secret Service employs 700 fewer full-time employees than the roughly 7,000 it had on the rolls at its peak in 2011, and 47 fewer than when the panel’s report came out in December 2014. Chaffetz and Cummings said the agency should have better addressed the issue in the 15 months since the report, noting the oversight committee has identified staffing issues at the Secret Service dating back to 2002.

“USSS cannot hire enough personnel to keep pace with historic attrition rates,” the lawmakers wrote, “which are as high as 7 percent for special agents and officers and 9 percent for other positions.”

The House passed a bill last year to require the Secret Service to make the nearly 300 hires the panel recommended, among other reforms. A Senate committee approved the legislation in February, but it has yet to receive a vote on the chamber’s floor. The agency reportedly was pressing forward in August with a more aggressive hiring plan of its own, but has so far failed to make progress.

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In a separate December report, the oversight committee found the Secret Service’s hiring efforts were failing.

“The attrition rate reflects a fundamental fact about the problems that plague the agency,” the committee wrote. “USSS cannot repair itself without first restoring the trust of its employees and increasing personnel dramatically to meet mission and training requirements.”

Attrition in recent years traces back to budget cuts forced by sequestration, systematic mismanagement and declining morale, the committee found. The agency’s budget was slashed for several years beginning in 2011, but staffing shortages have remained high even with a funding surge in the last two years. The committee urged Congress to continue to provide the agency with its requested funding.

Agency management told committee staff it plans to use initiatives such as tuition and childcare assistance to reduce attrition, in addition to relocation and other retention incentives. The Secret Service will also restructure compensation and offer bonuses for targeted hires.

The agency has turned to contractors to fill immediate gaps, but Chaffetz and Cummings implored officials to instead bring in permanent, career employees. The lawmakers sent a copy of their letter to the White House to reiterate their call for the Obama administration to lead a review of what Secret Service operations are nonessential and can be shed from the agency’s mission. 

The agency is the second lawmakers have targeted for not hiring enough employees despite a mandate from Congress to do so, with the House Homeland Security Committee also criticizing Customs and Border Protection for similar failures. 

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