“Julia is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own,” Obama said in a statement.
The appointment does not require Senate confirmation.
Obama’s selection of Pierson comes after an extraordinarily difficult year at the service, which was enveloped by a prostitution scandal exposing its male-dominated culture. She was chosen over former Secret Service official David O’Connor, another top candidate who had interviewed with the president, people familiar with the process said.
Last April, in preparing for Obama’s visit to Cartagena, Colombia, for a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders, several Secret Service agents brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms, where an argument ensued over payment.
In all, 13 male agents and officers were involved in a scandal that highlighted a culture within the service of macho behavior while on the road with the president’s protective detail. Several of the agents, including two supervisors involved in the scandal, were dismissed.
Sullivan implemented new rules governing the use of alcohol and curfew on international trips, along with additional mandatory training for all agents. He announced his resignation last month after apologizing for the scandal.
Pierson “has all the credentials regardless of the events a year ago,” said Barbara Riggs, who served as the agency’s first female deputy director in 2004 and is now retired. “I think that because [the scandal] is still out there in the public’s mind and also in the press, yeah, she will have to deal with what’s remaining from it.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement Tuesday that the Secret Service had “lost the trust of many Americans and failed to live up to the high expectations placed on it. Ms. Pierson has a lot of work ahead of her to create a culture that respects the important job the agency is tasked with.”
Pierson takes over an agency with a $1.5 billion budget, employing 3,500 agents and 1,400 uniformed officers. The agency provided protection to U.S. dignitaries on more than 5,600 domestic and nearly 400 international trips in 2011, and it operates 142 domestic and 23 international investigative field offices.
In an interview last year, Pierson said the department’s massive technology overhaul, which will take place in the next five years, is critical to enhancing its ability to perform its primary functions: protecting the president and uncovering counterfeiting.