Secret Service Director Julia A. Pierson resigned Wednesday amid intense pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill who feared the president and his family were being endangered by security lapses — highlighted by an intruder forcing his way into the White House last month.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson accepted the resignation and tapped his deputy secretary to lead an investigation into the Sept. 19 incident in which an intruder scaled the White House fence, overpowered an officer at the entrance and reached deep inside the mansion before he was subdued.
Ms. Pierson’s resignation marks the end of a three-decade career at the elite but troubled agency, which she helmed for the past 18 months.
President Obama tapped Ms. Pierson to be the first female director of the Secret Service with the hope that she could clean up the agency after a scandal involving agents on the president’s security detail who engaged prostitutes during a trip to Colombia.
“Over the last several days, we’ve seen recent and accumulating reports raising questions about the performance of the agency and the president concluded new leadership of that agency was required,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Mr. Obama did not ask for Ms. Pierson’s resignation, Mr. Earnest said, but she was increasingly under fire from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Wednesday morning that she agreed with calls for Ms. Pierson to be ousted. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Obama needed to make a decision on whether Ms. Pierson was still capable of reforming the agency.
Mr. Johnson, whose department oversees the Secret Service, appointed as acting director Joseph Clancy, a former special agent who retired from the agency in 2011 and used to be in charge of the presidential protective division.
Mr. Johnson also said he will convene an independent panel to report on changes needed to right the troubled agency.
Rep. Michael T. McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he still plans to introduce legislation calling for a blue ribbon commission to conduct a comprehensive assessment. That effort has Mr. Boehner’s support.
“With the resignation of Director Pierson, I am hopeful this will be the beginning of a new chapter for the dedicated men and women of the Secret Service. However, the growing list of failures from [the agency] seems to be more pervasive than just its leadership,” Mr. McCaul said.
Mr. Obama has no timetable for naming Ms. Pierson’s replacement, Mr. Earnest said.
Ms. Pierson’s departure is the latest in a string of high-profile Obama aides to leave under a cloud.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned this year amid controversy over the rollout of the exchanges tied to Obamacare, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki had to resign after a scandal involving fraudulent records and poor care of veterans.
In Ms. Pierson’s case, her capabilities were questioned after the September intrusion and her agency’s bungled efforts to explain it to the press.
The Secret Service initially said the man they apprehended, Omar Gonzalez, was caught in the White House’s entryway. But Ms. Pierson acknowledged in testimony to Congress on Tuesday that the intruder scaled the White House fence, sprinted to the main entrance, overpowered a guard at the unlocked door and went deep into the main floor of the executive mansion before a second officer helped subdue him.
The service also told the press that Mr. Gonzalez was unarmed, but Ms. Pierson told Congress that he did have a weapon — a knife.
Mr. Gonzalez pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges stemming from the incident.
The intrusion was the latest in a string of incidents ranging from the embarrassment of the prostitution scandal to repeated security lapses.
The agency this week acknowledged not learning until four days afterward that someone in 2011 used a high-powered rifle to take shots at the White House, though Ms. Pierson said protocols were followed in that case.
A number of members of Congress have raised questions about warnings from agency officers that were ignored in that case. They said it shows a culture in which agents and officers aren’t encouraged to bring problems to their superiors’ attention.
In September, agents allowed an armed security contractor to be in an elevator with Mr. Obama during the president’s visit to the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was a breach of protocol.
The agency didn’t alert Mr. Obama to that breach at the time, but Ms. Pierson told Congress that she reported every security lapse to the president personally.
“The White House first learned of that incident yesterday shortly before it was publicly reported by a news organization,” Mr. Earnest said.