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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

U.S. Secret Service Strategic Plan Prioritizes Investments to Stay Ahead of Evolving Threats

One of the country’s oldest law enforcement agencies is calibrating for the threats and workforce of the future by focusing on infrastructure modernization, investments in innovation, and attracting and retaining diverse top-notch personnel with state-of-the-art training and professional development, according to the FY2023-2027 Strategic Plan released by the U.S. Secret Service.

“If we do not consciously invest in the future, we will be overtaken by it,” Director Kimberly Cheatle wrote at the outset of the plan. “Threats to our leaders and infrastructure will continue, with adversaries becoming more and more sophisticated. It is critical that we continue to transform and stay ahead of these threats.”

Cheatle highlighted five focus areas for agency “transformation”: strengthening strategic partnerships, modernize the agency’s footprint, optimizing processes, adopting a holistic approach to resourcing, and advancing the agency’s brand.

“Each strategic objective is rooted in employee engagements,” she said. “Whether through focus groups; scenario-based planning; strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis; or other avenues — we listened.”

The Secret Service was housed within the Treasury Department until 2003, when the agency was moved to the Department of Homeland Security. USSS Protective Operations provides physical security to the president and vice president as well as their families, former presidents and first ladies, several high-level administration officials, and visiting foreign dignitaries. In fiscal year 2022, USSS had 35 protectees and provided security for 4,867 protectee visits.

In addition to that high-profile protective role, the Secret Service also consists of the Uniformed Division — known earlier in its 100-year history as the White House Police Force — and the National Threat Assessment Center, which recently released a toolkit to help stakeholders address the threat of targeted violence in schools as part of its mission to conduct research and provide training on threat assessment and types of mass violence. The agency, which was created in 1865 to combat counterfeit currency, also now investigates credit card fraud, wire and bank fraud, computer network breaches, ransomware, and other cyber-enabled financial crimes. USSS runs the Global Investigative Operations Center that works with Cyber Fraud Task Forces to combat cyber crime with partner law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, private industry, and academia.

In FY2022, USSS cyber financial investigations resulted in 893 arrests and $2.6 billion in loss. The Secret Service also hired 869 new employees, graduated 15 Special Agent and 14 Uniformed Division classes in addition to one Technical Law Enforcement class, and trained 4,318 law enforcement personnel at the National Computer Forensics Institute.

The strategic plan says that the document is the result of a “multi-year effort” including strategic foresight analysis, policy analysis, scenario-based planning, threatcasting, senior leader interviews, and focus groups in which personnel “examined the agency’s vision, concerns, priorities, challenges, and opportunities for efficiency.”

With a focus on attracting and retaining talent, the plan vows to “reimagine career progression” to “maximize skills in critical areas” — focusing on mission requirements, merit, and nurturing future leaders “while advancing equity and transparency in professional development opportunities.” Workforce planning will also be optimized and workplace flexibilities, novel recruiting strategies, brand promotion, and “examining our hiring standards” aim to make the Secret Service “the employer of choice in the Federal Law Enforcement community.”

The agency says it will enhance training methods and facilities to provide “realistic state-of-the-art training” and will champion diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility across the agency along with fostering “an effective leadership culture.”

“To ensure optimal operational posture, we must acquire and maintain leading-edge capabilities and resources,” the plan states. “This requires continuous modernization of weapons, training facilities, operational equipment, transportation, IT, and protective site infrastructure technology.”

“Effective law enforcement operations require a modernized and dependable IT infrastructure,” the plan continues. “Increased hyperconnectivity and future reliance on intersecting technologies mandates that our IT infrastructure support a dispersed, self-sustaining, and resilient network for the workforce. We must continually evaluate the full spectrum of current systems and improve accessibility and reliability.”

Mission priorities in the strategic plan include maximizing internal communications with an eye on improving workforce culture, placing a priority on innovation “to leverage technological advancements early and harness their benefits,” giving front-line operators effective protective tools by “providing threat assessments that proactively identify current and emerging threats, trends, tactics, and techniques,” “emphasizing individual responsibility” in safeguarding sensitive information, and building a “future-proof investigative portfolio.”

“The nature of currency is undergoing a revolutionary shift,” the plan says. “Likewise, related threats are evolving and the mission space is radically shifting. To remain agile and resilient, we must transform tactics and focus investigations with an eye towards the future.”

Looking to the future, the plan emphasizes the agency’s commitment to advance the brand of the Secret Service with a vow to “tell our story clearly and impactfully to all stakeholders” and to strengthen partnerships with other agencies, industry, and academia.

USSS said that “a comprehensive examination of our requirements is necessary to maximize use of limited resources” as “prioritizing our needs, empowering decision-making at appropriate levels, and examining all options in a holistic manner will position us for success.” Process improvements — studying where processes and procedures “can be shortened, simplified, accelerated, or consolidated” — aim to improve efficiency and increase agility “in an unpredictable and rapidly changing environment.”

The Secret Service said the agency will track progress of the strategic plan with quarterly reviews and development of a strategy management system “to gauge our effectiveness as we progress through strategy execution, allowing us to adjust as necessary.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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