“If every boss was Paula Reid, the Secret Service would never have a problem,” an ex-agent told The Washington Post about the rising star who runs the Miami office that oversees South America.
At 46, special agent Reid — who was with more than a dozen underlings in Cartagena, Colombia, doing advance work for President Obama’s trip to the mid-April Summit of the Americas — acted swiftly to get 11 allegedly errant colleagues out of that country and to investigate what happened.
In other words, this woman who always wanted to be in law enforcement is now working to uncover and address the mess of nearly a dozen men run amok.
“She’s the ultimate boss for that whole region,” one agent told The Post. “You did it in her house, so you better know she’s going to come down hard.”
Although intensely private, Reid is interested in diversity recruiting. “The general public is intrigued to see a black female in my position," she told the online newsletter “Women for Hire.” “They always need to confirm that I really am a special agent. I enjoy being a role model for women and minorities.”
By now the details of the Colombian prostitute debacle are familiar: A shouting match erupted at the Hotel Caribe over payment after one agent gave a woman about $30 and she loudly demanded considerably more money. Other agents — who collectively raised about $225 in dollars and pesos to try to quiet her — had been carousing with a number of prostitutes after a night of boozy club-hopping that ended in various hotel rooms.
Marriage vows? A job that requires total concentration (free from hangovers and sex-romp insomnia) that might impede an agent's ability to take a bullet to keep a protectee safe? Missing in action, it would seem.
Which brings us to Reid, a 21-year Secret Service member who was staying at a different hotel but after arriving at the Caribe, quickly told superiors of “egregious” agent misconduct involving ladies of the night, some of whom may be minors.
The scream-fest triggered what The Post called “the public uncovering of the most wide-reaching scandal at the agency in decades, according to government officials involved in the case.”
With a Secret Service spokesperson by her side, Reid told The Post, “I am confident that as an agency we’ll determine exactly what happened and take appropriate action.”
Moreover, “despite this current challenge facing the Secret Service, my job is to keep Miami personnel focused on our core protective and investigative missions. Anything less is counterproductive to the many critical functions we perform each day.”
As a woman who once joined a race-discrimination lawsuit against the Secret Service but later dropped out of the complaint, Reid knows she runs the risk of job backlash from macho co-workers who may resent the firings and resignations of those involved.
There is also that not insignificant matter of bilateral finger-pointing going on from Capitol Hill to Cartagena, and all the media chatter in between.
Fortunately, Reid has admirers within the service. “The epitome of what a female agent should be,” a current colleague who has worked with Reid told The Post. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes director one day.”
It could happen. It should happen. And if she were ever nominated, Reid could probably bank on bipartisan support from women in the House and Senate who know all about sexual impropriety among their male colleagues.
Last summer, when then-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was caught sexting photos of himself to several young women while his wife of 11 months was pregnant with their first child, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) had this to say about the reaction of female lawmakers:
“I’m telling you, every time one of these sex scandals goes, we just look at each other, like, ‘What is it with these guys? Don’t they think they’re going to get caught?’ ”
Clearly they do not.
Reid, who has never married but says she is very close to her family, grew up in Southern Maryland and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Maryland in 1988. She thought about becoming a lawyer or investigator before she attended an NAACP job fair that focused on law enforcement jobs for minorities.
She left her position at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to join the Secret Service, and for more than two decades, she quietly rose in the ranks. Along the way, she has sought to recruit other women and minorities.
“I can’t imagine not being in law enforcement,” she told Women for Hire as part of her outreach efforts. And yes, women are definitely up for the rigors of the job. “Women would not be remotely considered if we couldn’t do it physically — and we can.”
Annie Groer is a former Washington Post and PoliticsDaily.com reporter whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, Town & Country, More and TheAtlantic.com, She is at work on a memoir.