The U.S. Secret Service has struggled with a series of damaging controversies in recent years, prompting a congressional investigation that uncovered some previously unknown problems. The Washington Post reported today on a new, bipartisan report from the House Oversight Committee, which described the Secret Service as an “agency in crisis.”
A man masquerading as a member of Congress walked into a secure backstage area without being properly screened and spoke with President Obama at an awards dinner last fall. Five days later, a woman walked backstage unchecked at a gala dinner where Obama was a featured guest. Months after that, two people strolled unnoticed past a Secret Service checkpoint into the first layer of the White House grounds.The incidents were among a half-dozen previously undisclosed security breaches since 2013 that were detailed in an extensive, bipartisan congressional investigation of the inner workings of the Secret Service.
The full, 438-page report is online here (pdf).
As one might imagine, the congressional investigators highlighted a series of missteps and an “insular culture” at the agency, but it pointed to a staffing decline as “perhaps the greatest threat” to the Secret Service, with the size of the agency now reaching its lowest point in a decade.
What I found surprising, however, is the report’s acknowledgement of Congress’ role in making matters worse. Indeed, the staffing decline first became a problem in 2011 – when Republican lawmakers insisted on cutting the Secret Service’s budget.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, said in a statement, “[T]his bipartisan report warns that Congress cannot make some of the biggest budget cuts in the history of the Secret Service and expect no repercussions to the agency’s staffing and its critical mission.”
The report specifically references “significant cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011” as one of the “primary causes” of the agency’s crisis. In 2011, 2012, and 2013, “Congress approved $165 million less than the combined amount requested” by President Obama for the USSS.
Among the recommendations for addressing the problem: “Congress should fully support the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 request for USSS – particularly in light of the increased demand of the presidential election year – provided that there are adequate controls in place to ensure that the funds are used to address ongoing hiring challenges.”