An independent panel on Thursday recommended sweeping changes at the Secret Service, saying the elite protective agency is “starved for leadership” and calling for an outsider as director, hundreds of new agents and officers, and a higher fence around the White House.
The panel, created in October after a series of highly publicized security failures, said the fence protecting the executive mansion should be raised at least four feet to make it less vulnerable to jumpers. Panel members were reacting to a Sept. 19 incident in which a man scaled the fence and ran far into the White House through an unlocked front door.
The four-member body also urged expanded and intensified training for agents, saying the service should run crisis response scenarios that possibly use a mock White House. The report especially targeted the Secret Service’s highly insular culture, calling for new leadership from outside to shake up the agency — a suggestion sure to rankle some in the service’s old guard.
“The problems exposed by recent events go deeper than a new fence can fix,’’ said the report’s executive summary, the only portion publicly released. “We believe that at this time in the agency’s history, the need for Service experience is outweighed by what the Service needs today: dynamic leadership that can move the Service forward into a new era and drive change in the organization.’’
The sharply worded document comes after a cascade of security and other problems, including the agency’s fumbling response in November 2011 when a man fired a semiautomatic rifle at the White House residence while President Obama’s daughter Sasha was home.
Director Julia Pierson was called to Capitol Hill in late September to answer questions about what some lawmakers called the multiple “Keystone Cops” failures of the once highly regarded agency. She resigned the following day amid reports of yet another major security lapse — an armed private security guard who was allowed onto an elevator with President Obama in September.
Joseph Clancy, the former head of Obama’s security detail, was called out of retirement to be interim director.
The report surely will not be the final word on reforming the storied service, which was created in 1865, during the Civil War, to combat counterfeiting. A House committee will launch a broader, bipartisan investigation into the Secret Service’s operations next year, and there is widespread debate in Congress over whether the Department of Homeland Security has provided proper leadership of the agency, which was placed in the new department after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“A serious and robust investigation must include cooperation on both sides of the aisle in order to root out systemic problems and implement proper reforms,’’ Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee probe they are planning to launch into the Secret Service.
“Every day honorable men and women put their lives on the line to protect the president, first family, and others within the administration. There’s no room for mistakes,’’ Chaffetz and Cummings added in an unusual joint statement. They said their investigation “will examine security breaches . . . as well as focus on overall leadership, staffing, culture, protocol, technology, tactics and training issues.’’
It also remains unclear how many of the reforms suggested Thursday by the panel will be implemented. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who created the body, said that the recommendations will be “carefully considered” and that many of the ones regarding security cannot be publicly released because they are classified or too sensitive.
“The panel’s recommendations are astute, thorough and fair,’’ Johnson said in a statement. “In fact, some of the panel’s recommendations are similar to others made in past agency reviews, many of which were never implemented. This time must be different.
“The Secret Service itself must commit to change,” added Johnson, who vowed the Department of Homeland Security would closely monitor the agency.
The report was the latest embarrassment for an agency that has been under fire after a run of incidents dating back to a 2012 prostitution scandal on a presidential trip to Colombia. The focus on the agency intensified after the Sept. 19 White House breach, which ignited a major security review after reporting by The Washington Post revealed that the fence-jumper got farther inside the White House than initially reported by the Secret Service.
Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, an Army veteran who has said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has been charged in that incident and has pleaded not guilty.
While the Secret Service is best known for the special agents with their dark sunglasses and earpieces who guard the president and other national leaders, it has other roles. Uniformed Secret Service officers protect the White House compound, the Naval Observatory and dozens of foreign embassies and missions in the city.
The service also investigates counterfeiting and other financial crimes, a secondary mission that former directors have clung to.
The review panel was composed of two former Obama administration officials — former associate attorney general Tom Perrelli and Cabinet secretary Danielle Gray — and two who served under President George W. Bush — former deputy attorney general Mark Filip and former deputy chief of staff for operations Joseph Hagin. None of the panelists has served in the Secret Service.
In its executive summary, the panel recommended that the White House fence — famous as a place where tourists pose for pictures — should be at least four to five feet taller. “Horizontal bars, where climbers can easily place feet or hands, should be eliminated or placed where they provide little assistance,’’ it said.
Other recommendations included adding 85 Secret Service agents to the presidential protection division and 200 uniformed officers to the staff securing the White House and other facilities; dedicating a set amount of funding each year to research cutting-edge protection technology; and having leaders hold staff accountable for not meeting goals.
The body also noted that some of its physical security recommendations had been made by previous reviews of the Secret Service dating back to the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The panel said it was not discussing the details of those recommendations to avoid sharing security vulnerabilities.
A culture change inside the agency is necessary, the panel found, saying that “some in the Secret Service will resist and may need to move on.’’ Change, panel members agreed, “can be difficult for an organization with such a storied history.”
Some Republicans, however, said the report did not go far enough in addressing wide-ranging cultural flaws inside the agency.
“While this review is a good start, the [Secret Service] faces significant challenges on how to best prioritize reforms in these tight budgetary times,’’ said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He called for Congress to create a panel “to conduct a truly independent, bipartisan, top-to-bottom review.’’