Inside the Downfall of the Secret Service

Expanded responsibilities meet tight budget
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2014 9:56 AM CST
Inside the Downfall of the Secret Service
In this Sept. 20, 2014, file photo, uniformed Secret Service officers walk along the lawn on the north side of the White House in Washington.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Not long ago, the Secret Service had a sterling reputation—but in recent years, amid close calls at the White House and sex scandals, things have changed. Based on extensive interviews and official documents, the Washington Post takes an extensive look at the shift it traces to decisions made following the 9/11 attacks. "We are not the Super Bowl team we once were," a former Secret Service supervisor tells the paper. Among the issues:

  • Boosted responsibilities. A Homeland Security report this month found that the agency was "stretched to and, in many cases, beyond its limits." Prior to 9/11, the agency was responsible for protecting 18 people. By 2003, that had expanded to include, for instance, Dick Cheney's grandchildren, for a total of 29 people. The number now stands at 27. The agency also protected more than 6,000 venues during fiscal 2014.

  • Shrinking budgets. After the attacks, the agency was shifted from the Treasury Department to Homeland Security, which "forced it to compete for money and attention with bigger and higher-profile agencies," including the TSA and Customs and Border Protection, Carol D. Leonnig writes in the Post. Meanwhile, the "operational tempo" of the agency sped up, "but the budget has never been commensurate with that," says a field agent.
  • Early retirements. Many agents retired not long before 9/11; they were covered under a 1950s program that let them retire after 20 years. That meant the agency "was losing these highly experienced law enforcement officers at a point in their careers when they are still capable of effectively serving," a 2004 federal report found.
Recently, the Secret Service has suffered from a shortage of agents; it currently has 100 fewer people than it says it needs in the division protecting the White House. And under sequestration, it cut 300 agents. As for scandals like hiring prostitutes, many agents have pointed to a sense that management didn't want agents to point fingers at their colleagues. Agents "fear they'll be retaliated against," says Rep. Elijah Cummings. Click for the Post's full report. (Read more Secret Service stories.)

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