Secret Service Review: Raise White House Fence, Hire An Outsider to Change Culture

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The White House is seen behind a dual layer of fencing on October 3, 2014. A new director has been appointed to head the Secret Service after a series of security breaches.

Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The next director of the U.S. Secret Service should come from outside the agency, have a law enforcement or military background, and should force a cultural change to prevent a repeat of security lapses, according to the finding of an outside panel.

The agency, which is in charge of protecting the president, has become too insular and its training regimen for officers and agents “has diminished far below acceptable levels,” the panel said in an executive summary released today by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

“The need to change, reinvigorate, and question long-held assumptions -- from within the agency itself -- is too critical right now for the next director to be an insider,” the report’s recommendations said.

Johnson appointed the review panel following several high-profile lapses, including one in September when a man climbed over the White House fence and made it well into the executive mansion before he was tackled by agents. The incident sparked congressional investigations as well.

President Barack Obama, who wasn’t home when the intruder broke in, replaced Secret Service director Julia Pierson with Joseph Clancy as interim director. Clancy, in testimony last month before the House Judiciary Committee, called the Sept. 19 fence jumper breach “inexcusable.”

Clancy, who Obama coaxed out of retirement to step in when Pierson left, is a former agent.

Robert Hoback, a Secret Service spokesman, said he had no comment on the panel’s review.

More Scrutiny

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, said the report and its recommendations are only the beginning of scrutiny of the agency.

“While this review is a good start, the USSS faces significant challenges on how to best prioritize reforms in these tight budgetary times,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “I still believe Congress should create a panel to conduct a truly independent, bipartisan, top-to-bottom review.”

Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who next month will become chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters this week that investigating the Secret Service is among the top items on his agenda for that committee.

The panel reviewed such issues as the impact of budget cuts, staffing shortages, training, supervision and culture within the agency.

Disastrous Consequences

“A single miscue, or even a split-second delay, could have disastrous consequences for the nation and the world,” the report concluded.

The panel said the agency should return to the days of training in more realistic settings, something they did in the 1970s and which may have helped save President Ronald Reagan when a would-be assassin shot him outside a Washington hotel.

The Secret Service protects the president, vice president and their families as well as visiting heads of states. It also investigates counterfeiting and credit card fraud.

The panel called for beefing up the ranks of the agency, which has been part of the Department of Homeland Security since that agency was created following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It previously was part of the Treasury Department.

Higher Fence

Among other recommendations, the four-member panel recommended raising the height of the White House fence “as soon as possible.” It said an increase of four or five feet and putting in a curve at the top would help stave off would-be attackers, pranksters and people with mental illnesses.

“A better fence can provide time, and time is crucial to the protective mission,” the report said. “Every additional second of response time provided by a fence that is more difficult to climb makes a material difference in ensuring the president’s safety and protecting the symbol that is the White House.”

After Gonzalez climbed the fence and ran into the White House, the Secret Service installed a second perimeter outside of the iron fence of temporary bicycle-rack-type metal fencing.

The report is dated Dec. 15, the deadline set when the panel was appointed. The review was conducted by Tom Perrelli, former associate attorney general; Mark Filip, a former deputy attorney general; Danielle Gray, former cabinet secretary and presidential aide, and Joseph Hagin, former White House deputy chief of staff for operations.

The Homeland Security Department released a report in November finding that systematic failures by the service led to Omar Gonzalez, a U.S. military veteran, jumping the fence and getting into the White House.

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