Secret Service needs outside leadership to drive culture change, review finds – Washington Times
Proud, insular and stung by security lapses, the U.S. Secret Service needs new leadership from outside the agency to drive accountability, strategy and cultural change, according to an independent report released Thursday that laid bare the flaws of the agency that protects the president and his family.
“The need to change, reinvigorate, and question long-held assumptions — from within the agency itself — is too critical right now for the next director to be an insider,” the report from a panel of four outsiders urged Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
“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,” the report added. Most of the report’s findings are classified, but the agency released a publicly available executive summary from the panel, which included former top Justice Department official Thomas Pererelli and former George W. Bush White House aide Joe Hagin.
The report also made numerous other recommendations, including building a stronger perimeter fence around the White House to give Secret Service officers “more time to react to intrusions,” changing training, hiring more agents and officers and adding a greater “culture of accountability” inside the agency.
“Agency leadership, managers, and front line supervisors must believe and show that they are accountable for their mission. These are not just morale issues, or issues of fairness or trust. Accountability creates the culture of performance that the Secret Service needs to meet its zero-failure mission,” the report explained.
The report was ordered after a series of security lapses, including a scandal in Colombia involving prostitutes and a September breach in which a knife-wielding man hopped the White House fence and got deep inside the executive mansion before he was stopped.
Mr. Johnson called the panel’s findings “thorough, astute and fair” but cautioned that some of the changes would take time and involved forces outside the service itself.
“The Secret Service cannot, by itself, make many of the fundamental changes recommended by the panel. They also require engaged, sustained oversight by me and other leaders of this Department, to enforce change and ensure that the Secret Service has and utilizes what it needs to get the job done,” he said.
The Homeland Security secretary pointedly noted that some of the panel’s recommended fixes “are similar to others made in past agency reviews, many of which were never implemented.”
“This time must be different,” he said.
The panel named the fortification of the White House fence as a top priority but did not specify a specific structure. Instead, it suggested some of the features, such as building the fence at least 4 or 5 feet higher and eliminating horizontal bars “where climbers can easily place hands and feet.” The top of the fence should be altered to make it nearly impossible for most to climb over, it said.
Still, the panel said in the report that the Secret Service’s problems run much deeper than a fence.
“The panel found an organization starved for leadership that reward innovation and excellence and demands accountability. From agents to officers to supervisors, we heard a common desire: More resources would help, but what we really need is leadership,” the report said.
Although the report does not make clear where the new leader will be selected, one observer suggested Thursday night that a former FBI official would be best suited for the job.
“The FBI has had a great track record since 9/11 of keeping us safe. There have been no successful foreign terrorist attacks. The culture of the FBI doesn’t tolerate cover-ups and excuses, which is not the way the Secret Service operates,” said Ronald Kessler, author of 20 nonfiction books on the Secret Service, FBI and CIA.
“FBI changed it’s culture after 9/11 to become more prevention-oriented,” Mr. Kessler said “The people in charge of that are the ones I think should be put in charge of the Secret Service. That way you have someone who is a former federal law enforcement official, so there’s not as much of a learning curve.”