Bob Goodlatte: Secret Service reform needed

bob-goodlatte-afp2At a recent House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy called the security lapses that allowed an armed man to jump the fence and enter the White House “devastating.” That is a sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly.

The secret service has two primary missions – criminal investigations and protection of the President, Vice President, and other dignitaries. This is an extremely difficult, high-profile mission, for which there is no margin for error. However, recent incidents give me great concern that the policies, procedures, and training at the secret service are not entirely up to the task.

In light of these events, the judiciary committee – which has primary jurisdiction over the secret service – held an oversight hearing to carefully examine a series of security lapses. Most notably, in mid-September Omar Gonzalez, armed with a knife, jumped the fence and ran through unlocked doors of the White House before finally being apprehended just outside the East Room. Others include the Columbian prostitution scandal, the recent ability of a security guard with a criminal history to take a service weapon into an elevator with the President, and the incident in the Netherlands dealing with intoxicated secret service agents.

A Department of Homeland Security review of the fence jumper incident at the White House reads as a comedy of errors by the secret service and confirms that fundamental reform is needed to improve the security of the White House grounds as well as staff training. This report makes clear that everything that could have gone wrong that evening did. One canine officer was on a personal cell phone call, without his radio earpiece in his ear or his tactical radio. Communications systems did not work and officers were not trained to use them. Alarmingly, the White House doors were unlocked. What Acting Director Clancy called a “convergence of failures” – inadequate training, poor communication, and lax physical security – led to this breach.

We must ensure that the secret service has all of the tools, training, and resources necessary to protect the President, White House personnel, and the historic grounds.  This oversight hearing provided the Committee with an opportunity to learn more about the problems within the Service so that we can help to prevent such security lapses from happening again in the future.

I am grateful that Acting Director Clancy agreed to come out of retirement following his predecessor’s resignation and take the reins at the secret service at this critical juncture. Given the vital role the secret service plays in the security of the President and the White House, it is critical that Congress continue to investigate the agency’s response to recent incidents and work with the Service to make sure it fulfills its critical mission.