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GAO Finds Progress in Secret Service White House Security

The Secret Service experienced several protection-related security incidents on the White House complex from 2012 through 2017. These incidents included attempts to gain access to the White House complex by foot, car, and air.

In September 2014, an intruder jumped a fence, passed several layers of security, evaded U.S. Secret Service personnel, and entered the White House before being detained. Two months later, an independent panel of experts made 19 recommendations for improvements to the Secret Service. 

Now, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the agency is working to address these recommendations. 

In December 2014, the U.S. Secret Service Protective Mission Panel—an independent panel of experts established to review White House security and other aspects of Secret Service operations—made the 19 recommendations related to training and personnel, technology and operations, and leadership. 

GAO found that the Secret Service has taken actions to address 13 of the 19 recommendations, including two since GAO’s last assessment in 2019. For example, the agency revised its budget processes to incorporate principles of mission-based budgeting in its budget formulation process. In February 2019, the Secret Service formally incorporated a new budgeting process and, in August 2021, issued its Fiscal Years 2021-2025 Human Capital Strategic Plan, which includes revised staffing models to be used in developing the budget. In addition, the agency developed and implemented its Leadership Development System framework across all occupational categories in the agency. The framework is intended to promote leadership within individuals, teams, and projects and result in a positive effect on performance and agency mission accomplishment.

The Secret Service is in the process of implementing the remaining six recommendations. For example, the Panel found in its report that the security incident of September 2014 arose from a “catastrophic failure of training.” The Panel recommended that the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Protective Divisions train for 25 percent of their work time. In August 2021, the Secret Service, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget, established a new training target—at least 12 percent of work hours by fiscal year 2025—that takes the availability of resources into account. 

To train in conditions that replicate the White House, the Secret Service secured approval in 2017 to build a White House Mockup Training Facility at the James J. Rowley Training Center in Beltsville, Maryland. According to Secret Service officials, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not yet allotted funding for the project.

The Secret Service increased the number of Uniformed Division officers by 316 officers between fiscal year 2014 and July 2020. In addition, the Secret Service increased the number of special agents assigned to PPD by 165 during the same period of time. The Secret Service’s Fiscal Years 2021–2025 Human Capital Strategic Plan sets a target for the agency to have 4,474 special agents and 1,805 Uniformed Division officers in fiscal year 2025. However, officials told GAO in July 2021 that the COVID-19 pandemic had negatively affected its initiatives to reduce hiring time for special agents and Uniformed Division officers.

To address current technical capabilities and future needs, Secret Service officials reported completing, but not finalizing, a draft of the Fiscal Years 2021–2026 Strategic Implementation Plan for Protective Technologies. Agency officials stated in 2019 that they planned to finalize and execute this plan as one of the actions to implement this recommendation. However, in September 2021, agency officials reported to GAO that they have not finalized the strategy because it is in a pilot phase; they provided no estimate for when the pilot will end.

Read the full report at GAO

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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