Secret Service moving forward in wake of scandal
The Obama administration has called for an independent panel to take a look at the agency from top to bottom
By Alicia A. Caldwell and Josh Lederman
WASHINGTON — With the dust still settling from a series of embarrassing security failures that marred the Secret Service's reputation and forced its director to resign, the agency is starting the arduous and public task of rebuilding itself.
The Obama administration has called for an independent panel to take a look at the agency from top to bottom and make recommendations for a permanent successor for ousted Director Julia Pierson.
But that will take months.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Thursday that President Barack Obama won't name a new permanent director until Dec. 15, at the earliest. That's the deadline for completing a separate, internal probe into what went wrong on Sept. 19, when a fence-jumper carrying a knife was able to run deep into the executive mansion.
The independent panel will draw on the results of that investigation to determine what qualities the agency's new leader should possess, Schultz said.
In the meantime, Deputy Director A.T. Smith will be in charge until Monday, when Joseph Clancy, a former head of the service's presidential protective division, takes the helm on an interim basis.
But presidential security must continue. Thursday the president was in Illinois for a speech on the economy, and uniformed officers patrolled the grounds of the White House — including the new, second layer of temporary fencing put up the day after the fence-jumper made it inside the building.
Todd Keil, a former Homeland Security Department assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, said despite the public turmoil in the aftermath of two security breaches last month the agency "needs to continue to fly the plane. They can't lose sight of that."
In the immediate aftermath of last month's breach at the White House, Obama told aides he was satisfied with the security enhancements immediately put into place, a White House official said. That changed Tuesday after the president learned of another breach earlier in September in Atlanta in which Obama rode an elevator with a security contractor that the Secret Service didn't know was armed. The Secret Service never informed Obama about that breach until Tuesday, when it was just about to emerge in the press.
How fast things could change at the Secret Service was unclear.
Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who has been tasked with leading the internal Secret Service investigation, wants to quickly name a permanent director and finish an initial assessment of potential internal reforms, the White House official said. It would likely take weeks to fully vet potential directors.
The official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the review on the record and requested anonymity, said the panel members — yet to be named — will be asked to decide whether the Secret Service would be best served by appointing an outsider to shake up the agency, an insider with deep experience or someone whose resume has a mixture of both. He said the advantages of bringing in someone from the outside had been a major topic of discussion among White House staffers and in the Secret Service in recent days.
In Keil's view, there is little hope of changing the culture of the insular agency if an insider is tapped to be the next director.
"After 150 years, now is probably the time for an outsider to come in and be the director," he said.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press