The Washington Post

Secret Service seeking media relations trainers

Secret Service members watch while President Obama speaks at a Walmart store May 9 in Mountain View, Calif. (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

The U.S. Secret Service is looking for a few good people — to train them in how to handle the press.

The elite law enforcement agency has been beset by bad news over the past two years, including several incidents of agent misconduct, questions about whether the service is suffering a leadership failure and a heap of congressional investigations.

The agency has been trying to recover from a series of unflattering reports since 2012, when a dozen agents were implicated in bringing prostitutes to their hotel while on a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia. This week, The Washington Post revealed that agents protecting the White House perimeter were ordered to abandon their posts for at least two months in 2011 to help provide security for the Secret Service director’s friend, an assignment they called “Operation Moonlight.”

But also this week, the agency finalized its request for media consultants to help the agency’s top leaders get more comfortable with answering reporters’ questions, appearing on television and generally handling media attention.

The Secret Service issued its request for price quotes and proposals from media advisers May 2, and explained its request in more detail Monday. That was the same day the Secret Service was answering questions concerning revelations about Operation Moonlight, and the media reported that Director Julia Pierson was calling for the agency’s inspector general to fully investigate the allegations to ensure public trust in the service.

The Secret Service monitored Brenda Allen and her family for months. The surveillance came after an altercation with her neighbor, who worked for former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.​ (Theresa Poulson/The Washington Post)

The agency’s search for media consultants emphasizes its wish for a media relations training course that would be provided to up to 30 top agency leaders each year, in a contract that could last five years. It was first reported by Time magazine early Tuesday.

The posting describes what the agency wants for its media classes: “The Media Relations course prepares executives for television and radio interviews, and encounters with the media on routine matters as well as during crisis situations. The executive becomes more comfortable as they learn how to conduct themselves during interviews and press conferences and giving speeches, and deal with both positive and negative subjects as they learn the fundamentals of media and techniques. The course exposes the executive to the media environment – microphones, lights, cameras, tape recorders, news media personalities and their questions, so that they become more accustomed to that scene. In turn, they become more confident and less apprehensive in addition to becoming better prepared for an event with what they can say, and how they should say it.”

Carol Leonnig covers federal agencies with a focus on government accountability.

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