I argued in this column Wednesday that the resignation of Director Julia Pierson wouldn't fix the Secret Service. I urged Congress and the Obama administration to undo a post-9/11 reform that folded the agency into the new and ginormous Homeland Security Department. I barely scratched the surface.
A few well-informed readers tell me that the problems are older and more deeply rooted than anyone wants to admit.
First came a link via Twitter from a reader reminding me about a horrifying U.S News & World Report cover story on the Secret Service in June 2002—almost a year before the DHS merger. It opens with tales of sexual dalliances, theft, and public rowdiness among agents whose conduct defiled the Secret Service's "image to the world of bravery, excellence, and patriotism."
[A] U.S. News investigation shows that, at a time when the stakes for the Secret Service are higher than ever, the agency is rife with problems and resistant to oversight and correction. The troubles range from alcohol abuse and misuse of government property to criminal offenses and allegations of extramarital relationships by Secret Service personnel with White House employees "¦
Such incidents, current and former Secret Service personnel say, are tarnishing the image of an agency long lionized as the elite of the elite. And they have led many agents to raise questions about their organization's ability to fulfill its unique mission: protecting America's leaders.
Written a dozen years ago, that story documented the occurrence of similar issues in the 1990s. My point:
- Pierson was an ineffective leader who squandered the public's trust, so she had to go. But the problems didn't start with her.
- The Homeland Security Department is a bureaucratic monstrosity that weakens the Secret Service's autonomy and leadership, cannibalizes its budget, and suffocates its sense of purpose. The Secret Service should regain its quasi-independent status. But the problems didn't start with a Bush-era reform.