The top lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee are asking for a independent review of the Secret Service that looks beyond the Sept. 19 security breach in which a man hopped the fence and made it into the White House.
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., say a committee hearing this week “raised bipartisan concerns regarding a series of dangerous security breaches that highlighted significant flaws within the Secret Service’s culture.”
The two said committee members expressed worries about a number of “dangerous security breaches over the past several years,” as well as reports of “protocol failures, technology lapses, training reductions, and internal cultural issues that may discourage agents from reporting security concerns to their superiors.”
Johnson, who accepted Secret Service Director Julia Pierson’s resignation Wednesday, said he’d convene a review by a “distinguished panel of independent experts” who would look at White House security and “related issues.” He said the members would be named shortly and would submit recommendations to him by Dec. 15.
Johnson said he’d ask the panel to advise him whether it believes there should be a review of “broader issues concerning the Secret Service,” but he added that security at the White House would be the group’s “primary and immediate priority.”
The lawmakers said they were encouraged by the creation of a review, calling it an “important step in assuring that missteps at the Secret Service do not continue.”
In their letter, they ask that the panel review not only recent security lapses, “but the full range of management, personnel, training, and cultural issues that contribute to the root causes of these security failures.” It should also look the process by which the Secret Service communicates with Congress, the press, the public and the President “to ensure that information the agency provides is accurate and timely.”
As Pierson was testifying Tuesday, reports surfaced that agency protocols failed during Obama’s recent trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The Washington Examiner and The Washington Post reported that Obama apparently shared an elevator with a security contractor who was carrying a gun and had three criminal convictions for assault and battery on his record.
The White House did not learn about the Atlanta incident “until shortly before it was reported,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. Members of Congress were also alarmed that initial reports from the Secret Service said the man did not have a knife -- it was later revealed he had a folded knife in his pocket.
White House officials said Obama remains confident in the agency, despite the lapses.
“The President has no shortage of appreciation for the men and women who serve in the Secret Service -- their bravery, their sacrifice, their determination, and the hard work and the courage they put on the line every day,” principal deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Thursday.
He said he did not expect Obama to name a new director before Dec. 15th when that panel makes its recommendations.