President Obama on Tuesday appointed the first woman ever to head the Secret Service, an agency still struggling to recover from a high-profile sex scandal.
Julia Pierson, 53, a former field agent who has been chief of staff at the agency that protects the president and his family, will replace Mark Sullivan, Mr. Obama announced.
"Over her 30 years of experience with the Secret Service, Julia has consistently exemplified the spirit and dedication the men and women of the service demonstrate every day," Mr. Obama said.
"Julia is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own."
The Secret Service last year became embroiled in a scandal involving agents taking prostitutes to their hotel rooms in Colombia before Mr. Obama visited the country for an international summit.
The incident came to light when one agent failed to pay a prostitute and they argued about it in a hallway of the hotel. Eight employees were forced out of the agency; three others were cleared of serious misconduct.
Ms. Pierson is a native of Florida and began her career with the Secret Service as a special agent with the Miami office in 1983. Starting in 1988, she served four years with the Presidential Protective Division.
The position does not require Senate confirmation.
Mr. Sullivan apologized for the embarrassing episode in Colombia and later announced he would step down after a 30-year career. In a statement, he praised Ms. Pierson and her "historic" appointment.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he hopes Ms. Pierson can restore the agency's lost credibility.
"Ms. Pierson has a lot of work ahead of her to create a culture that respects the important job the agency is tasked with," he said.
In addition to providing protection for the president and his family, the Secret Service also investigates financial crimes.
Before joining the Secret Service, Ms. Pierson served as a police officer in Orlando, Fla., from 1980 to 1983. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida in Orlando and did graduate work at George Washington University.
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