A man masquerading as a member of Congress walked into a secure backstage area without being properly screened and spoke with President Barack Obama at an awards dinner last fall. Five days later, a woman walked backstage unchecked at a gala dinner where Obama was a featured guest. Months after that, two people strolled unnoticed past a Secret Service checkpoint into the first layer of the White House grounds.
The incidents were among a half-dozen previously undisclosed security breaches since 2013 that were detailed in an extensive, bipartisan congressional investigation of the inner workings of the Secret Service.
In a critical report to be released publicly on Thursday, House investigators describe the once-elite force as an “agency in crisis” that has failed to fix many of the deeply ingrained problems exposed last year amid a string of humiliating security lapses, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Post.
The report offers detailed assessments of the failings of the Secret Service during several well-publicized security incidents, including the agency’s halting response to a 2011 shooting at the White House and an incident last year in which an armed man with an arrest record was able to board an elevator with Obama.
More broadly, the report assessed the Secret Service as an agency that remains deeply troubled, despite recent attempts at reform. It concludes that the Service has a “staffing crisis,” with fewer personnel today than in 2014, when an administration panel recommended adding 280 new staff members and Director Joseph Clancy took over vowing to the enact reforms.
“The agency’s recent public failures are not a series of isolated events, but the product of an insular culture that has historically been resistant to change,” states the report, compiled by the Republican and Democratic staffs of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The staffing decline, which includes the uniformed-officer division that guards the White House, is “perhaps the greatest threat” to the Secret Service, the report says. Among other factors, the report points to past budget cuts and “systemic mismanagement” by the agency.
Although Clancy assured lawmakers earlier this year that there were “no greater priorities for me” than hiring the right number of staff, the agency’s roster has dropped from 6,367 full-time employees at the end of September 2014 to 6,315 one year later – its lowest point in a decade.
Morale is “critically low,” contributing to a drop in personnel through attrition. The report also blames the decline on “systemic mismanagement” and an inefficient hiring process that hampers recruitment of high-caliber staff.
“The high attrition rate means that the personnel who remain are significantly overworked, and morale is at an all-time low,” the report says. The report also warns that the agency’s new hiring system “overburdens USSS with low quality applicants.”
The report also warns that Obama and 2016 presidential candidates face heightened danger if the administration does not swiftly fix the agency’s problems.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Oversight Committee, said the report should spur further action by the Obama administration.
“The situation is getting worse not better,” he said. “The president is in jeopardy, and he better personally get involved in fixing this.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, said that he supported the report’s findings but that it “may not be exactly how I would have written it.”
Cummings said he, too, is deeply concerned about the safety of the president and the first family and worries there is a cultural problem at the agency.
Cummings said Congress shares some blame for making some of the biggest funding cuts in agency history in 2011.
A Secret Service spokesman said the agency received the report late on Wednesday and would not comment until officials had time to review the full findings.
“The Secret Service recognizes that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is legislatively mandated to exact oversight on the Secret Service,” said spokesman David Iacovetti. “We are reviewing the report at this time and will carefully assess any recommendations made by the committee.”
The investigative report is highly critical of the Secret Service’s management, saying its nature is to cover up problems and punish those who flag concerns. While Clancy has promised to encourage staff to come forward with their complaints, the report says he and his team have largely failed to set a new tone.
The agency “cannot repair itself without first restoring the trust of its employees and increasing personnel dramatically,” the report states. “Whether from missteps at the executive level or at the field office supervisor level, it is clear many of the rank-and-file have lost confidence in USSS’s current leadership.”
The committee’s probe uncovered a number of previously unreported breaches – including several that occurred about the time last fall that the agency was already under fire for its mistakes.