Secret Service Moving Forward in Wake of Scandal


sseWith 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 could take weeks.

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.

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 a White House security breach in which a man armed with a knife was able to run deep into the executive mansion, President Barack Obama told aides he was satisfied with the security enhancements immediately put into place, a White House official told The Associated Press. That changed after the president learned that just days before that event he had ridden an elevator in Atlanta with an armed security contractor and that Pierson hadn’t told him about until it was about to emerge in the press.

How fast things could change at the Secret Service was unclear.

The White House official said 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. It could take weeks to fully vet potential directors, the official said.

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.