Interim Secret Service testifies on agency’s failures

Story highlights

Joe Clancy promises a bottom-to-top assessment of the troubled agency

Clancy was brought in after former Director Julia Pierson resigned last month

NEW: Rep. Steve Cohen suggested that a moat around the White House might help

CNN  — 

Joe Clancy, the interim director of the U.S. Secret Service, said that the agency has been “severely damaged in recent years by failures” and explained some key mistakes made by the Secret Service when a fence jumper was able to run inside the White House two months ago.

In his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Clancy, who was tapped to lead the agency last month, also laid out protocols the Secret Service is trying to improve in the wake of the fence jumper and other problems in the past few years.

“I openly acknowledge that a failure of this magnitude, especially in light of other recent incidents, requires immediate action and longer term reform,” he said.

His appearance comes a week after the Department of Homeland Security published a report revealing failures in training, equipment and communications at the agency.

Clancy said when the jumper, Omar Gonzalez, started to scale the fence, officers nearby outside the barrier started shouting verbal commands before sprinting over and coming “about an arm’s length or two arms’ lengths short of reaching him” before he breached the fence.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, joked that Gonzalez “got further in the White House than some of my Republican colleagues have ever gotten.”

He asked if a moat would be effective in stopping future White House jumpers.

“Sir, it may be,” Clancy replied, but added the Secret Service tries to recognize the accessibility and historic nature of the White House.

Their first step, Clancy continued, is working with the National Park Service to “do something with the fence,” including possibly making it taller.

In the short term, Clancy said a bike rack now sits in front of the fence to provide one extra obstacle.

Pressed on whether anyone at the agency was punished for violating protocol in the incident, Clancy said “this was not an intentional violation of the code” and no discipline was given.

Clancy was chosen for the job after former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned in the wake of the fence jumping incident as well as a string of controversies involving the agency in recent years.

One of those included a shooting incident that happened on November 11, 2011, in which it took days for the Secret Service to confirm that there were, in fact, evidence of bullet impacts on the White house façade.

Clancy said in his remarks that there are new fixes to improve and better enforce policies regarding those in close contact with the president. This comes after Obama was – unknowingly – in an elevator with an armed contractor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta back in September.

After working under former President George W. Bush, Clancy worked with the President and first lady Michelle Obama on outlining a plan of action to protect their daughters. He then entered the private sector as executive director of Comcast Cable Security. He left after three years for his current role as the Secret Service’s interim director.

CNN’s Tiane Austin contributed to this report.