The answer is yes. But the ultimate reason was not because an intruder breached the White House, however incredibly concerning that is. It was not, in the end, because an agent reportedly passed out drunk in a hotel hallway in March, raising questions about her success at bringing the agency's frat-house culture in line. And it was not because of recent reports that it took the White House four days in 2011 (before she took the top job) to realize fired gunshots had actually hit the president's residence.
Rather, the deciding reason she lost the confidence of President Obama appears to be that he found out bad news just minutes before it appeared in the media. That, combined with misleading statements the agency made about the Sept. 19 breach, speak to an overall breakdown of trust in her leadership. And when that happens, it's nearly impossible for most leaders to recover. The end often comes quick.
It certainly did for Pierson. Just two days ago, after the revelations that the intruder had gotten much deeper into the White House than was originally thought, a spokesman for the president said he had confidence in the agency. But after Pierson gave a dispassionate, non-reassuring performance in front of lawmakers who grilled her Tuesday, certainty about her future quickly faded. For one, Pierson said that she had read the agency's misleading statement implying the intruder was apprehended just inside the White House before it was released, raising questions about why she didn't stop that version. According to reports, the agency also initially said he was unarmed when he had a knife.
Then, the Post's Carol Leonnig dropped yet another bombshell: During a recent trip to Atlanta, a security contractor with a gun and a criminal record was just inches from the president in an elevator. The security lapse was not referred to an investigative unit, and Pierson did not share it with the White House. That, Leonnig and the Post's David Nakamura later reported, was what White House aides called the decisive factor in the erosion of Obama's confidence in her.
Mistakes happen, even in an agency where making them could mean the death of the president. And a security lapse on its own might not have ultimately threatened Pierson's job, or at least not so quickly. Eighteen months — the length of time Pierson spent at the top — also really isn't enough time to fix the kind of deep-rooted cultural problems that new reports say have plagued the agency, leading to high turnover, staffing shortages and fears of contradicting supervisors.
But when questions arise about how forthcoming an official is being — especially to her own boss — they undermine the essential trust that leaders must have in order to get people to follow them. Without that trust, and without the confidence that goes with it, there was no other option than for Pierson to resign.