Is latest Secret Service incident an indicator that more reforms are needed?

The Department of Homeland Security inspector general is investigating allegations that two senior Secret Service employees drove into a White House security barrier after drinking at a party.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Secret Service officers search the south grounds of the White House in Washington after an unmanned aerial drone was found on the White House grounds during the middle of the night, Jan. 26, 2015. Now, the Secret Service is investigating two senior agents after a car crash at the White House complex. Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback says recently appointed Director Joseph Clancy has been briefed on the March 4 incident. The crash investigation is the latest embarrassment for the agency tasked with protecting the president.

The Department of Homeland Security inspector general is investigating allegations that two senior Secret Service employees drove into a White House security barrier after drinking at a party, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.  

The incident is an additional black mark on the Secret Service’s reputation after several cases over the past three years called into question the agents’ ability to protect the first family and behave appropriately while on duty. Now, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have voiced concern that this latest incident may be an indicator that new reforms are needed.

“Although recent steps have been made to bring new leadership in at the highest levels, this incident begs the question of whether that is enough,” Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah and Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland, the chairman and the ranking Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a joint statement.

“The fact that this event involved senior-level agents is not only embarrassing but exhibits a clear lack of judgment in a potentially dangerous situation.”

Last October, a government investigation criticized a Secret Service assignment that took agents from their duty near the White House and sent them to the rural Maryland home of a headquarters employee involved in a personal dispute with a neighbor, the Associated Press reported.

The report was released at a time when Congress was already 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.

The agency's woes began at least two years earlier, when allegations surfaced that nine Secret Service agents had brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms while on a presidential business trip in Colombia.

This latest event, however, is the first test for Joseph Clancy, the man President Obama appointed last month to be the new permanent director of the Secret Service. Mr. Clancy had vowed to clean up the service and restore its once-spotless reputation following the security lapses that led his predecessor to resign. 

Ms. Pierson, the first female director of the Secret Service, had herself been brought in to reform the agency.

"I knew Joe Clancy when he led the presidential detail," David Axelrod, one of Mr. Obama's longest-serving advisers, tweeted in October. "You could not find a better person to repair the Secret Service." 

Clancy has turned over the investigation to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.

“The Secret Service will fully cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General in this investigation,” Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor told Politico.

According to The Washington Post report, the two agents were on their way back to the White House where a suspicious package was being investigated when they arrived at a security-locked area. People familiar with the incident said that witnesses described the agents as arriving at the scene with their overhead lights on, which may be another violation of Secret Service rules and regulations. Both agents showed their badges to gain access to the area, but then suddenly drove through the security tape and hit the security barricade that had been temporarily set up for the investigation, according to the account.

The officers on duty who witnessed the March 4 occurrence wanted to arrest the agents and conduct a sobriety test, an anonymous source told the Post, but they were ordered by a supervisor to let the agents go home.

The agents have been identified as Mark Connolly, the second in command of the president's protection team, and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor based in the Secret Service's Washington field office. A Secret Service official said the two employees have since been reassigned to “non-supervisory, non-operational assignments."

Secret Service rules prohibit driving a government vehicle after consuming alcohol. While it has not been confirmed that the two agents were under the influence of alcohol when the event occurred, they had arrived at the White House after attending a party held in honor of retiring Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan.

"Drinking on the job isn't good at McDonald's, and it certainly isn't good if you work for the Secret Service," Representative Chaffetz told CNN.

"They've got to get a grip on what's going on. There's obviously a deep-seated cultural problem."

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