Julia Pierson was the first female director of the U.S. Secret Service.
She was appointed in 2013 after a prostitution scandal marred the agency.
Her resignation ends a 30-year career with the Secret Service.
Julia Pierson became the first female director of the U.S. Secret Service in March 2013, tapped to change the culture of an agency that was then marred by a Colombian prostitution scandal.
Eighteen months later, she’s been ousted as the agency faces a harsh new round of criticism.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that he had accepted Pierson’s resignation – and that he is appointing an independent panel to investigate a Sept. 19 incident that saw Omar Gonzalez run deep inside the White House, carrying a knife, before Secret Service agents tackled him.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the Secret Service and the American public if I step down,” Pierson told Bloomberg News after resigning Wednesday. “Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency. The media has made it clear that this is what they expected.”
“I can be pretty stoic about it, but not really,” she reportedly said. “It’s painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a significant security breach.”
Pierson’s resignation marks the end of a 30-year career with the Secret Service that included stints on the protective details of presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Pierson became the Secret Service’s chief of staff in 2008, according to her official bio. She had been the assistant director of the Office of Human Resources and Training, and held the title of deputy assistant director in the Office of Protective Operations and the Office of Administration.
Pierson started her career in law enforcement as a police officer in Orlando. She joined the Secret Service in 1983, working in the Miami and Orlando field offices.
Her appointment came after the resignation of Mark Sullivan, who retired the year after 13 Secret Service employees were caught in a scandal over prostitutes who were brought to a Colombian hotel where they were staying as they prepared for an Obama trip to the area.
“I’m disappointed that I didn’t have an opportunity to implement structural and operational changes in the agency,” Pierson told Bloomberg News. “I had a vision for the future. It’s 31 years of service and a firm understanding of the organization.”
Obama called Pierson on Wednesday to “express his appreciation for her service to the agency and to the country,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
“She dedicated more than 30 years of her life to the United States Secret Services and to the important work that they do over there,” Earnest said, commending Pierson for spending “several hours in front of the cameras” in Tuesday’s House hearing.
“In the context of that interaction, she took responsibility for the shortcomings of the agency that she led and she took responsibility for fixing them,” he said. “That quite simply is a testament to her professionalism and her character.”
Lawmakers who had criticized the Secret Service’s performance in a hearing Tuesday said her departure was the right move.
“As I told Ms. Pierson in our phone call earlier today, we appreciate her thirty years of service to our nation, to the Secret Service, and to multiple presidents,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, who had called for Pierson’s ouster earlier Wednesday.
“I absolutely respect her decision, and now we have to ensure that we focus on the difficult work of fully restoring the Secret Service to its rightful status as the most elite protective service in the world,” he said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told CNN that Pierson’s performance in Tuesday’s hearing “didn’t inspire any confidence.”
“Those of us that were sitting in that room in a bipartisan way I think left with less confidence in her rather than more,” he said. “It was not a good showing.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said his panel will continue to investigate the agency.
“Problems at the Secret Service pre-date Ms. Pierson’s tenure as director, and her resignation certainly does not resolve them,” he said.