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Secret Service Failed to Stop Breaches at Homes of Biden, H.W. Bush

New embarrassing incidents expose ‘crisis’ at government agency

A member of the Secret Service Uniform Division is seen from inside the Grand Foyer as he looks out from the North Portico during a preview of the 2015 holiday decor at the White House / AP
• December 3, 2015 5:20 pm

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Newly revealed details of security breaches indicate that the U.S. Secret Service is facing a "crisis" that warrants reform and outside leadership, according to a congressional report.

The report, released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday, documents several previously unreported details of security breaches that point to failings at the Secret Service. The agency has been embroiled in controversy in recent years after a series of widely publicized and embarrassing incidents.

House investigators found that in April 2013 the Secret Service failed to block four young individuals from fishing in Vice President Joe Biden’s backyard in Delaware and were notified of the breach by a neighbor who noticed the intruders. The agency did not disclose the breach to lawmakers after an incident involving gun shots occurred outside Biden’s Delaware home in January 2015.

The report also documents an incident that occurred at President George H.W. Bush’s residence in 2014 when a Czech citizen with an expired visa breached the property and stayed there for an hour before being noticed.

House investigators also found new evidence of multiple incidents that occurred following two highly publicized Secret Service failures in September 2014, namely one that allowed an armed contractor with a violent arrest record to ride in an elevator with President Obama at the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another that allowed an armed man to jump the White House fence and move deep into the residence.

Days after the White House breach, a man posed as Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D., N.J.) to attend a Congressional Black Caucus dinner at which Obama spoke and breached the secure backstage area. He also spoke with the president, a detail that was previously unreported.

Another breach occurred six days later at the same location when a woman entered the backstage area without authorization during a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Gala. A week later, the Secret Service failed to properly screen an employee at a Los Angeles hotel where Obama and his senior adviser Valerie Jarrett were staying. An agent there was also caught watching movies on the job with an L.A. police officer.

Additionally, the report explores four Secret Service failures in depth, beginning with a shooting at the White House in November 2011. It also covers the April 2012 prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, that resulted in the firing of eight Secret Service employees, the 2014 incident in Atlanta previously mentioned, and the March 2015 incident when two drunk Secret Service employees interfered with a crime scene outside the White House.

Over the last decade, there have been 143 successful or attempted security breaches at secured facilities that ended in arrests, according to House investigators. Thirteen of these resulted in individuals serving jail time.

The report warns that the agency is broadly experiencing a "staffing crisis" that threatens agents’ ability to perform their chief duty, protection. Between 2011 and 2015, staffing across all categories of employment in the Secret Service declined by 10.1 percent when it should have grown.

House lawmakers lay blame for sharp declines in employee numbers on budget cuts made in 2011 and the "systematic mismanagement" at the agency that has weakened morale among agents. The report also exposes the Secret Service’s "extraordinarily inefficient hiring process," disclosing that the agency trashed applications from 400 to 600 applicants who were qualified for positions in 2013 alone.

Secret Service personnel are overworked and morale sits "at an all-time low," the report reads. Employees also lack confidence in the leadership at the agency, which whistleblowers interviewed by House lawmakers said has resulted from a culture where "leaders are not held accountable."

Some employees are "desperate" for new leadership from the outside to take over and carry out reforms. The report recommends that the Secret Service enlist top leadership from outside the agency to enact "necessary changes."

House lawmakers also urge the executive branch to conduct a review of Secret Service responsibilities to determine what can be shed so that the agency is not overburdened.

The agency has weathered scrutiny since the 2011 shooting outside the White House, and criticism has increased with each incident profiled in the report. Most recently, a man draped in an American flag jumped the White House fence on Thanksgiving day when the Obamas were celebrating the holiday inside.

The Secret Service was also warned in October by its inspector general against overworking employees after two agents were found sleeping on the job.

Published under: Secret Service