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Monday, May 29, 2023

McCaul, Goodlatte Introduce Secret Service Reform Legislation

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers Thursday introduced legislation to clean up the US Secret Service (USSS) after a series of high-profile incidents and security breaches, including the recent incident in which two senior USSS agents under the influence of alcohol disrupted the integrity of an active investigation into a bomb threat.

House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced HR 1656, the Secret Service Improvements Act of 2015, to implement  recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) US Secret Service Protective Mission Panel on how to improve the agency.

“As recent incidents have proven, the Secret Service has much work to do to restore the credibility of the agency and regain the trust of the American people,” McCaul said. “It is time for Congress to direct specific mandates to fix the Secret Service and we can begin by implementing some of the important recommendations made by DHS’s Secret Service review panel.”

“This legislation will help to ensure the agency has the best possible leadership structure, internal policies, tools, and resources to meet its mission,” McCaul continued. “I look forward to continuing to work with the other relevant committees to restore the Secret Service as my committee moves forward with our DHS reauthorization process.”

Homeland Security Today reported in December that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the formation of a panel following the events of September 19, 2014 when an individual scaled the White House fence onto the north lawn and into the White House before an off-duty agent stopped him.

This was not an isolated incident. Since 2011, USSS has been involved in a number of scandalous security breaches, including the 2011 shooting at the White House and the 2012 Cartagena, Colombia prostitution scandal.

“After a series of embarrassing security failures and instances of poor judgment, the American people have lost confidence in the Secret Service’s ability to protect the President from threats from outside entities and from within the agency itself,” Goodlatte said.

After reviewing these incidents, the panel determined the agency is too insular and needs outside leadership to drive change, calling the agency “an organization starved for leadership that rewards innovation and excellence and demands accountability.”

HR 1656 would improve transparency and accountability at the agency, strengthen security and enhance agents’ training. In particular, the bill would authorize the hiring of no fewer than 200 additional uniformed division officers and 80 additional special agents, and would direct the Secret Service to increase the number of hours spent training.

To strengthen security, the bill would clarify that it is a federal crime to knowingly cause, with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of government business or official functions, any object to enter restricted buildings or grounds, including the White House and the Vice President’s residence.

The bill also would require the director of the Secret Service to be confirmed by the Senate.

“It defies logic that the person we entrust to not just protect the President, but to also head a $1.5 billion federal law enforcement agency, is not subject to the same process of advice and consent as his counterparts at other comparable agencies,” Goodlatte said.

The legislation arrives on the heels of a hearing this week by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform which examined recent and longstanding problems at the US Secret Service in the wake of the drunk driving incident at the White House.

“It has been nearly three weeks since senior agents disrupted a crime scene involving an alleged bomb outside of the White House Complex with the President in the residence. At a briefing last week, Director Joseph Clancy was unable to provide adequate answers to basic questions surrounding the incident," committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a joint statement. "It is extremely disappointing that agents with first-hand knowledge of the March 4th event have not been allowed to appear before this committee. In order to conduct proper oversight and initiate proper reforms, fundamental questions still need to be answered by this agency.”

Although the committee originally invited four officers on duty before and during the March 4th incident to answer questions at the hearing, the Secret Service would not make the witnesses available.

“It is extremely disappointing that agents with first-hand knowledge of the March 4th event have not been allowed to appear before this committee,” Chaffetz and Cummings said. “In order to conduct proper oversight and initiate proper reforms, fundamental questions still need to be answered by this agency.”

As this latest scandal continues to rock the US Secret Service, McCaul and Goodlatte said they hope their proposed legislation will bring long-awaited reforms to the agency.

“The Secret Service needs to ensure its agents are properly trained so that they can successfully identify and prevent threats from materializing, and also needs to crack down on the wild and reckless behavior exhibited by some agents,” Goodlatte said. “While director Clancy has taken many steps to begin to reform the Secret Service, it’s clear that legislative action is needed.”

Other co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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