News that the acting director of the Secret Service, Joseph Clancy, is getting rid of six of the agency’s eight top assistant directors, is a welcome and overdue step for an agency that in recent years has lost morale and effectiveness.
Improvements at the agency will depend on who is chosen to replace the six — four fired, two retired — as well as the critical question of who will become the next permanent director.
But the house-cleaning is appropriate given the multiple scandals about Secret Service performance in recent years. In 2014 alone four people climbed over the White House fence, one of them making it into the White House itself. Since 2012 there have been three embarrassing episodes of Secret Service officers creating scandals at hotels in the Netherlands, Colombia and Washington, D.C. Going further back, the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General reported 824 cases of misconduct by Secret Service employees from 2004 to 2013.
Last month a distinguished bipartisan panel that included two former White House officials and two former high-ranking Justice Department lawyers found that the Secret Service was “starved for leadership.” The view of an organization that had lost its way its way is borne out by an annual survey of federal employees that found the high point of employee satisfaction at the Secret Service since 2003 came in 2007, when 51.7 percent said the agency had effective leaders. That ranking, reports The Washington Post, was only mediocre at best, and in succeeding years it plummeted to a low point last year of 30.2 percent
Given the prominence of the agency’s job of protecting the president, Congress is already saying the departure of officials in charge of protecting the president, investigating counterfeiting and other crimes, public affairs, technology, training and professional responsibility is not enough. In particular, the deputy director in charge of budgets and agency priorities remains on the job.
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said, “It’s a good start, but they are by no means done. There are more senior staff that need to be reviewed and probably changed.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, echoed the independent review panel in urging the Secret Service to “bring in leaders from outside the agency with strong management experience.”
The recommendations of the review panel and Rep. McCaul should be heeded. Rebuilding the Secret Service is a bipartisan project that deserves the highest priority.