Joseph Clancy, who became acting director of the Secret Service last month following a string of security missteps, told lawmakers Wednesday that he found the multiple failures that allowed a fence jumper to race deep into the White House “devastating.”
Clancy, the former head of President Obama’s security detail, told the House Judiciary Committee that he agreed to come out of retirement following the abrupt resignation of Director Julia Pierson and become temporary director because he saw a beloved agency flailing and “severely damaged” by a series of embarrassing security failures.
He was sharply critical of the agency’s management culture, noting that he has been struck by the extent to which some employees have felt it necessary to express complaints to lawmakers and the media rather than to their own supervisors.
“I see an urgent need to reestablish what I consider” a basic part of any good workplace, he said, “to be able to trust your boss, that he will stand up and do the right thing.”
Clancy said he has taken several immediate steps to prevent incidents like the fence jumper and other breakdowns in security protocols.
“We are confident we can restore the Secret Service to its rightful place as the most respected protective agency in the world,” he said.
Clancy was unflinching in his assessment of the agency’s problems. In stark contrast to Pierson’s halting appearance at an oversight hearing roughly a month ago, Clancy acknowledged fundamental breakdowns in security protocols in several instances. He emphasized that Secret Service agents and officers are stretched thin and have missed critical training because there are not enough to cover all the daily, required posts.
“When we’re not properly trained, sir, we fail,” he told one lawmaker.
Clancy noted with concern that advance agents on Obama’s trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 16 failed in determining that a private security guard was armed when he boarded an elevator with the president. Only selected sworn law enforcement officers with specific duties are allowed to have access to the president when they are armed.
In one tense exchange, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the newly chosen chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked Clancy whether anyone at the Secret Service had been disciplined for the misleading initial statements the agency made about the fence jumper being unarmed and being tackled just inside the North Portico doors.
“We’ve cited at least two, I believe three incidents when the public was misinformed,” Chaffetz said. “The Secret Service misled us on purpose.”
Clancy acknowledged that the statements were inaccurate and the agency “failed” in communicating properly to the media and Congress. But Chaffetz said the service needs to hold people responsible for misstatements
“You have a major morale problem, and this is why,” Chaffetz said. “There doesn’t seem to be any consequence” for misconduct and misstatements.
Clancy says in his submitted testimony that the Secret Service has “fallen short” of its high standards and that recent public attention has had “detrimental effects on workforce morale and operational security, both with potentially dire consequences,” according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
In his prepared remarks, Clancy describes an agency that has come under increasing pressure from an expanded portfolio in the years since the 9/11 attacks and is now stretched thin.
Clancy says he is conducting a “comprehensive, bottom-to-top assessment” to determine the “root cause” of the recent missteps, including holding town-hall meetings with employees and spending time at the White House complex with agents and officers.
Clancy points to a number of security breaches that have received particular attention.
He describes an “unacceptable” days-long delay between a November 2011 shooting and the discovery of bullet damage to the White House residence, saying the agency has adopted a “systematic process” to search the complex after any shootings in the area.
Clancy calls “simply inexcusable” the Sept. 19 incident in which a fence jumper was able to get inside the White House.
And Clancy says the agency has concluded that a “lack of due diligence on the part of advance team members” allowed the armed private security contractor to get on an elevator with the president during his Sept. 16 visit to Atlanta. Clancy says the violation of the agency’s security protocols was serious and remains under review. He says Secret Service headquarters has moved to correct the problem by providing more instructions and “written procedures to clarify and reinforce existing policies regarding armed contractors in proximity to the president to prevent similar incidents.”
“I want to assure you and the public that the past incidents are not treated lightly and do not come without positive change,” he says in the written testimony.
Clancy says that the recent mistakes “suggest that while we strive for perfection, we have, on limited occasions, fallen short of that goal.”
He adds, “Instead of remaining the organization that prides itself on operating silently and courageously behind the scenes, we are now in the public spotlight.”
Clancy’s testimony, along with the questions he will answer Wednesday from House members, represents the first public pronouncements the acting director has made about the agency’s security lapses and broader challenges since Pierson resigned and Obama asked him to take over temporarily. Lawmakers in both parties said they lacked confidence in Pierson, whose resignation followed a tense and halting appearance before a House committee on Sept. 30.
While members of Congress complained that Pierson seemed unable to acknowledge the deep-rooted problems within her agency, Clancy has been seen as a more credible leader for the agency. He has the “very deep trust” of the Obamas, said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), as a result of Clancy’s time leading the president’s protective detail during his first two years in office.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said last week that he was “anxious to get to the bottom of these problems at the agency so that we prevent such security lapses from happening again in the future.”
In his written testimony, Clancy says agents and officers have been struggling for years with an ever-expanding mission, with not enough people to do the job.
Clancy notes that in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Secret Service took on the responsibility of security for large public events that could be the target of terrorists, including summits that involve multiple heads of state, as well as political conventions and the Olympics.
He says the agency provides physical protection or full-time protective details to 27 people, including the president, the vice president, the first family, former presidents and other top government officials. In fiscal 2014, its agents and officers provided security and protective plans for 5,700 individual visits, or “stops,” during political leaders’ domestic trips and 390 stops on international trips, Clancy says.
He says the public is not able to see the countless times they have done their jobs flawlessly.
“Our workforce, even as it has decreased in recent years, has risen to meet the challenges of these growing demands,” he says. “It has not been easy for them.”
Still, Clancy’s statements echo the fears that Cummings and others shared last month that something must be very wrong with the Secret Service leadership, given that so many of its current and former employees have been reaching out to the media and lawmakers to express concerns about lapses and failings.¶
breaches, including the 2011 shooting at the White House and the fumbled investigation, as well as the fact that fence jumper Omar J. Gonzalez was able to race through much of the main floor of the White House before being tackled by an off-duty officer.
“I share the concerns expressed by many members of Congress that some employees are more comfortable speaking with people outside the agency than they are with their supervisors,” Clancy says. “This troubles me and was an integral part of why I agreed to return.”
He says he directed the Secret Service ombudsman to create a method for employees to anonymously report problems and concerns to an executive review board that will ensure they can flag problems confidentially and also get a timely review of their complaint.