The Post’s View

Secret Service misconduct, again

AN INCIDENT in which an off-duty agent tried to retrieve a bullet he had mistakenly left in a woman’s Washington D.C. hotel room is more than an embarrassment to the Secret Service. It raises renewed questions about the culture that is at work in this critical agency — and whether reforms undertaken in the wake of the South American sex scandal that roiled the service 18 months ago have been sufficient.

Two supervisors were cut from President Obama’s security detail, The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura revealed, after investigation into a May incident at the Hay-Adams hotel. No breach of the president’s security was involved, but the inquiry lead to the discovery of inappropriate, sexually-suggestive e-mails sent to a female subordinate. Last year’s scandal involved male agents bringing prostitutes back to their rooms in Cartagena, Colombia; a male-dominated culture that looked the other way at sexism, drinking and excessive partying was blamed.

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A spokesman for the Secret Service stressed this week that allegations of improper behavior are taken seriously and followed by appropriate action. It appears the agency, which got its first female director seven months ago, moved quickly in investigating the Hay-Adams incident. It has also taken a number of actions in the last year to address misconduct, including the establishment of an employee reporting hotline and stepped-up ethics and professionalism training.

How pervasive the problems are is a matter of some dispute. Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (Wis.), the ranking GOP member on a Homeland Security subcommittee, this week charged that the problems are more pervasive than have been acknowledged by Secret Service officials. A review was launched by the Homeland Security inspector general after the Cartagena debacle and a report is expected in the coming weeks.

No institution can be completely immune to individual employee misconduct. But the stakes are particularly high for an agency with a mission as vital as that of the Secret Service.

 
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