A House Oversight Committee report details lapses at the Secret Service
The report calls for more funding to reverse staff losses
A man who posed as a member of Congress at a Congressional Black Caucus event entered a backstage security area and spoke with President Barack Obama in 2014. A year earlier, four people went fishing in Vice President Joe Biden’s backyard – detected only when neighbors called the Secret Service.
Those revelations are included in a damning report released Thursday that outlines dramatic examples of misconduct and security breaches that are being made public for the first time.
The report – released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel’s top Democrat – adds to the trouble facing the Secret Service. The elite presidential protection unit has come under fire in recent years after a series of troubling security lapses that have raised questions about the safety of the first family.
Lawmakers also provided new details on well-publicized incidents, such as a special agent’s plans to bring “cash fo dem hoes” on a trip to Colombia that resulted in a prostitution scandal.
The report found that the Secret Service needs more funding, a larger staff and a narrower mission. Lawmakers faulted 2011 budgetary cuts, “systemic mismanagement” and the declining morale of the Secret Service’s employees – which has deepened its losses.
As the Secret Service’s mission has expanded, its number of employees has declined – from 7,024 in 2011 to 6,315 today. The total number of special agents has shrunk from a high of 3,542 in 2010 to 3,257 now.
“The current staffing crisis began after 2011, when the number of full-time employees began to decline sharply,” the report says.
Perhaps most notable about the report: In a gridlocked Congress, members of both parties back its conclusions.
“This bipartisan report warns that Congress cannot make some of the biggest budget cuts in the history of the Secret Service and expect no repercussions to the agency’s staffing and its critical mission,” Cummings, the oversight panel’s top Democrat, said in a statement.
Chaffetz said the report backed up his criticism of leadership at Secret Service. But beyond Director Joseph Clancy, he told CNN he concerned the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is also responsible for problems at the agency, saying he was planning to “hold his feet to the fire” and he could be called to testify.
“We’re not done with them yet,” Chaffetz said.
Among the new details included in the report is an exchange between two special agents involved in the 2012 prostitution scandal in which the agents discussed taking cash and condoms on a trip to prepare for a presidential visit in Cartagena, Colombia.
One emailed: “Swagg cologne-check/Pimp gear-check/Swagg sunglasses- check/Cash fo dem hoes-check.”
The other agent responded: “Plenty of magnums … double check!”
Sensitive security equipment and documents were also left unsecure in agents’ rooms, the report says.
It also includes new details on a September 2014 incident in which a man carrying a gun rode in an elevator with Obama at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Secret Service failed to conduct background checks on the CDC’s security guards, the report says. And the guard stationed in the elevator had a criminal history that includes three arrests for misdemeanors – including reckless conduct with a weapon, a charge that involved a three-year-old.
The report says that three consecutive Secret Service directors provided false information to Congress and detailed operational problems.
Managers and supervisors do not always report incidents, and managers have at times failed to follow Department of Homeland Security procedures for referring some types of misconduct to the inspector general, the report says.
The Secret Service has also hired at least one person without verifying his citizenship, and its Security Clearance Division is understaffed.
Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor said the agency is giving the report a “serious and thorough review” – and is already implementing similar recommendations from a panel formed after a man jumped over a White House fence and entered the mansion before being stopped last year.
“Our leadership has long acknowledged that, in addition to its many successes, the Secret Service faces many challenges,” Mainor said in a statement. “Over the past year, under the leadership of Director Joseph Clancy, the Secret Service has taken a number of steps to address these challenges, including altering the way the Secret Service is structured and managed, striving to hire new members of its workforce, expanding training opportunities for current employees, and implementing the other recommendations of the independent Protective Mission Panel.”