Editorials

Editorial | Secret Service: Agents against change

The following editorial appeared Friday in the Washington Post:

“Only a director from outside the service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require.”

President Obama rejected that assessment by a special panel probing the operations of the U.S. Secret Service when he tapped a 27-year veteran of the service to lead the troubled agency. While the jury is still out on Mr. Obama’s appointment, we’re wondering whether he is having second thoughts in light of the latest allegations to embarrass the agency.

Two senior Secret Service agents are under investigation for allegedly crashing a government-issued car into a White House barricade last week after an evening of drinking. One of the agents, The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig reported, is a top member of the protective detail assigned to the president. It’s troubling to think someone entrusted with the president’s safety would demonstrate such poor judgment.

Even more troubling is the allegation that officers who witnessed the incident wanted to arrest the agents and administer sobriety tests but were waved off by a supervisor who let the agents go home. “If misconduct is identified, appropriate action will be taken,” said a spokesman for the service.

This is only the latest in a string of scandals. In 2011, the public learned just last year, the service bungled its response to an incident in which shots were fired at the White House. In 2012, agents preparing for a presidential summit in Cartagena, Colombia, were caught drinking and consorting with prostitutes. An agent preparing a presidential trip to Europe last year was found passed out in a hotel hallway after a night of drinking. Also last year, a man armed with a knife climbed over the White House fence and sprinted into the executive mansion before being stopped.

As a consequence of all this, Congress held hearings. Agency Director Julia A. Pierson was cashiered. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, created the independent panel to examine the agency’s problems.

The panel concluded that the agency was starved for leadership and strongly recommended the hiring of an outsider with fresh perspective. Mr. Obama opted instead for Joseph P. Clancy, the head of his security detail in his first term who had been brought in to replace Ms. Pierson on an acting basis.

Mr. Clancy, named permanent director just last month, has forced out much of the senior management team, and he made the right call in bringing in the inspector general to investigate the March 4 incident.

But the need for deep change seems more urgent with each mortifying incident, and the argument for an outside change agent grows more persuasive.

Why, for example, did the Secret Service not even divulge the latest problem until The Post came calling? That kind of self-protection does not reflect a reformed spirit.

So far, thankfully, the consequences of failure have not been more serious than embarrassment. The stakes are far higher.

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