Democrats and Republicans Agree: The Secret Service Is Not Working
Members of the House Appropriations Committee grilled the agency’s director on Tuesday about a string of security failures.
Secret Service director Joe Clancy is on the Hill Tuesday to discuss his agency's budget request for 2016, but lawmakers want to talk about the agency's security lapses and troubling company culture.
"This is the last in a long line of episodes somewhat similar—drinking, carousing, on and off duty—that this agency has suffered these last few years," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, referring to a recent incident in which two Secret Service agents reportedly drove drunk into a White House barricade. "It's not working right, Mr. Director."
"Yes, sir," Clancy responded, nodding.
Such was the tone of Tuesday's hearing. Lawmakers in both parties took turns expressing their shock about yet another Secret Service mishap, and telling Clancy to step it up. The contentious atmosphere echoes that of a September hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Back then, members grilled former Secret Service director Julia Pierson, who resigned a day later, about several agency security failures, from White House fence jumpers to officers' solicitation of prostitutes during official trips. Like Pierson, Clancy promised changed on Tuesday.
"I think deep down, within our agency, as in others, people want to see discipline," Clancy said. "People want to be disciplined. They want to have people held accountable."
Clancy said he doesn't have the authority as director to dismiss agents on the spot. Instead, the process to fire someone in the Secret Service is somewhat "drawn-out," and agents have the ability to appeal their proposed dismissal.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. wasn't convinced. "What really shocks me is it will take time to change the culture. I don't understand this one bit. It seems to me it should take time to help people who think this is the culture to go get another job," she said of Clancy's comments on reshaping the agency's lax approach to its employees. "We're not talking about someone drinking at a party. We're talking about a respected member of the Secret Service, who was absolutely drunk."
Lawmakers are focused on a recent Washington Post story that reported that two high-ranking Secret Service officials drove into White House barriers on March 4 after a night of drinking. The agents, one of whom was a top member of Obama's protective detail, were not arrested by Secret Service officers after a request from a senior supervisor. The Huffington Post questioned the Post report on Tuesday, citing surveillance video that shows the agents driving at a slow speed and nudging a traffic barrier, not crashing into it.
But the specific details likely don't matter for lawmakers, for whom this latest incident is the last straw.
Rogers said Tuesday that the agency's disappointments "will not stand" and, for that reason, its 2016 budget would be contingent on improvements. "We're going to provide the adequate funding for your agency, but it's going to be on a short string," he said. "We expect results."
Homeland Security Subcommittee Chair John Carter asked Clancy bluntly, "I'd like you to give us a picture of what happened" on March 4. Clancy said he didn't know about the incident until five days after it occurred, and that shouldn't have been the case.
"There's no excuse for this information not to come up the chain that's going to take time because I'm going to have to build trust with our workforce," Clancy said, adding that the Office of the Inspector General is investigating the incident.
"I don't care about the Office of the Inspector General," Rogers told Clancy. "You're in charge."
Clancy, who once headed up President Obama's protection detail, was appointed last month by the president to reform the troubled agency.
Several members wondered how the Secret Service handles inappropriate behavior by its agents. Clancy said candidates for the Secret Service undergo seven to nine months of recruitment, vetting, and ethics and professionalism training before they go into the field. But "somewhere after that training is where we lose them," Clancy said, referring to the recent rash of scandals. "We lose them where they forget those lessons learned."
Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, emphasized the "dangerous" capabilities of the Secret Service agents as reason for strict regulation over their activities.
"As dangerous people, you have to have a set chain of command, regulate it from top to bottom—or something dangerous is going to happen," Carter said. "That's what we're all worried about up here."
More members are expected to take their turn to tell Clancy he needs to fix his agency.