Expanding Mission, Budget Cuts, Retirements At Root Of Secret Service Problems

Secret Service vest. Courtesy/U.S. Secret Service

HSNW News:

A series of recent security lapses at the White House may be attributed to an expansion of U.S. Secret Service duties ordered by Congress and the White House during the George W. Bush administration, according to a new DHS review of the agency.

Officials familiar with the agency’s administrative inner-workings also note that budget cuts forced the agency to ration services while simultaneously dealing with a wave of early retirements from seasoned staff members.

Formerly, Secret Service agents had been awarded the same employment benefits Washington, D.C. police received, which allowed them to retire after 22 of service, but in 1983, Congress replaced the agency’s program with a federal retirement plan. Most of the agents covered under the former retirement program reached their 20-year mark right around 2001. The loss of many seasoned agents and reliance on less-prepared staff resulted in the White House detail containing several agents who had not undergone training for incidents including one which could have prepared them for Sept. 19, 2014, when an intruder leaped the White House fence and ran through the front door.

According to the Washington Post, shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration moved the Secret Service from the Treasury Department to the newly created DHS, assigning the agency additional responsibilities, including monitoring cyberthreats against U.S. financial systems, and monitoring crowds at an increasing number of major sporting events and other large gatherings considered potential targets for terrorists.

Bush also expanded the list of people granted full secret service protection to include some relatives of the first family and some White House aides. Days before the 9/11 attacks, Secret Service details were guarding 18 people, including the president and vice president’s immediate family members, as well as former presidents and their spouses. By 2004, Secrete Service details were assigned to 29 people. The additional details required more agents just as the agency began to experience budget cuts.

As part of a newly formed DHS, the Secret Service now had to compete for funds and attention with what at the time were more higher-profile agencies — the Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Patrol. Andrew Card, then-White House chief of staff, tried to fight off proposed cuts to the Secret Service’s budget, but Congress and DHS officials viewed other agencies as top priorities.

“They’d say, ‘We need X millions of dollars to address this threat,’ ” Card recalled, “Somebody asks, ‘What’s the chance of that happening?’ The answer is maybe 2 percent. To the Secret Service agent, it doesn’t matter. . . . If it happens, it’s 100 percent.”

Former DHS head Tom Ridge admits that post 9/11, priorities had shifted but he insists that the Secret Service received the funding it needed. “The entire focus of the nation shifted after 9/11, and all federal agencies had to adjust to the new realities,” Ridge said recently through a spokesman. “That said, the Secret Service, because of its protective mission and direct ties to the White House, never suffered from a lack of resources­ to carry out their critical responsibilities during my time at DHS.”

The four-member panel that issued the recent DHS report on the Secret Service has urged the agency to provide more specificity when requesting for budget increases.

“[N]o one has really looked at how much the mission, done right, actually costs,” the panel said of the service’s budgeting process. Members of Congress are also calling for a further review of the Secret Service.

“I don’t think the Secret Service has been held accountable for the last 15 years,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said. “Finally, people are acknowledging that obviously there has to be something wrong inside this agency,” he said. “You can’t gloss over what has occurred.”

Source: Homeland Security News Wire