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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

GAO Reviews Presidential Protection Following ‘Catastrophic Failure of Training’

After an intruder ran past Secret Service personnel and entered the White House in 2014, an independent review panel found that this incident arose from a “catastrophic failure of training” in the U.S. Secret Service. The panel subsequently made nineteen recommendations.

Now, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation has found that the Secret Service has yet to fully address the review panel’s recommendations. The GAO’s May 22 report says the Secret Service has made progress implementing the 19 recommendations related to training and personnel; technology, perimeter security, and operations; and leadership made by the U.S. Secret Service Protective Mission Panel (Panel). The Secret Service fully implemented 11 of the recommendations. For example, the agency increased the number of agents and officers in the divisions that protect the President and White House and secured approval to build a new fence around the White House complex.

The Secret Service is in the process of implementing the remaining eight recommendations. The Panel recommended, and the Secret Service agreed, that the Presidential and Vice Presidential Protective Divisions train for 25 percent of their work time. However, the Secret Service has not met this target and lacks a plan for achieving it. In fiscal year 2018, special agents assigned to these divisions trained for about 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, of their regular work hours.

Commenting on the report, the Secret Service stated that it no longer agrees with the training target and plans to reevaluate it. Senior Secret Service officials told the GAO investigation that the number of protectees and the amount of travel for the current protectees is higher for the current administration than for prior administrations, which reduces the time agents have available for training.

GAO said in the report that increasing staffing levels, as planned, over the long term may adequately support the protective and the investigative priorities at the levels defined. However, it adds that the Secret Service is relying on hiring goals alone to achieve its training-related targets, and it may not be able to achieve its hiring goals because of, among other things, uncertainty about whether enough funding will be requested and appropriated to expand the agency at planned levels.

GAO has made its own recommendations in the May 22 report. First, it calls for the Secret Service to develop and implement a plan to ensure that special agents assigned to the Presidential and Vice Presidential Protective Divisions reach annual training targets. Second, it should develop and implement a policy that documents the process for collecting complete and appropriate data on Uniformed Division officer training.

DHS concurred with the two recommendations and stated that the Secret Service Office of Training will work with the Office of Protective Operations to evaluate the training metric and develop a plan focusing on increasing capacity at training facilities, achieving staffing growth, and creating efficiencies in protective division scheduling. In addition, DHS stated that the Secret Service expects to review the Enterprise Personnel Schedule System within the next two months and anticipates these efforts will result in a more accurate and expansive method for reporting Uniformed Division training.

The GAO investigation also revealed that from fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2018, special agents across the entire agency worked more hours on protection assignments and fewer hours on investigations. Specifically, in fiscal year 2014, agents spent 4.3 million hours (54 percent) on protection and 2.8 million hours (36 percent) on investigations, whereas in fiscal year 2018, agents spent 4.9 million hours (59 percent) on protection and 2.2 million hours (26 percent) on investigations. The number and percentage of hours spent on protection peaked in fiscal year 2016, but was higher in fiscal year 2018 than in fiscal year 2014.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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