As if the US Secret Service needed any more controversy, it turns out that the protection it’s supposed to provide former presidents isn’t necessarily ironclad.
Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general finds that the alarm system at former President George H.W. Bush's home in Houston was broken for at least 13 months before the Secret Service fixed it. During that time, extra cameras were installed, an additional agent patrolled the property, and there were no intruders or other breaches of security, officials report.
But Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah, chairman of the House's oversight committee, and Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland, the committee's ranking Democrat, say it was "startling and unacceptable" for the Bush residence to be without an alarm for so long. "This adds to the growing list of significant concerns Congress has had with the management of the Secret Service," the two lawmakers said in a statement.
Congress has been investigating the Secret Service over a series of security breaches and scandals, including several fence-jumping incidents. In one of those, a man with a knife scaled the White House fence and made it all the way to the East Room. Then-Director Julia Pierson resigned in the wake of a government investigation that found that lack of training, poor decisionmaking, and communication problems were contributing factors.
Two years earlier, allegations surfaced that nine Secret Service agents had brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms while on a presidential business trip in Colombia.
Closer to home, it was disclosed last year that in 2011, at least seven shots from a high-powered rifle were fired at the White House, breaking windows and causing other damage near the upstairs residence. Subsequent investigations showed that the Secret Service failed to quickly and accurately identify and respond to the threat.
As the Washington Post reported in an investigative effort awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, “The episode exposed problems at multiple levels of the Secret Service, and it demonstrates that an organization long seen by Americans as an elite force of selfless and highly skilled patriots – willing to take a bullet for the good of the country – is not always up to its job.”
Regarding the security problem at the former president’s home in Houston, a senior Department of Homeland Security official, speaking to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, said that Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy has discovered “significant problems in agency technology” since taking over in October and has compiled a list of the most pressing needs.
“The service, supported by the department, is making it a priority to go through all of the security systems for all of the protectees, whether they are current officials or former presidents,” the official said. “It’s the department’s and the service’s job to always be concerned about their security, particularly in light of recent things we’ve learned.”
In his report, Inspector General John Roth recommended that the Secret Service evaluate security equipment at the homes of everyone protected by the agency and take whatever action necessary to repair or replace the equipment. The agency says such a review was completed in January and a security system replacement plan has been included in the agency's Resource Allocation Plan for the 2017 budget year.
According to Roth's report, the Secret Service determined in 2010 that the home alarm installed in 1993 had exceeded its life cycle and requested a replacement, but the request was denied in August 2011. Limited upgrades were later made to the system, which ultimately failed by September 2013.
In a tweet Thursday, the former president said, “Barbara and I have great respect for, and confidence in, the men and women of @SecretService. That respect and confidence has never waned.”