- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that alarms at the Houston home of former President George H.W. Bush were broken for more than a year — the latest embarrassment for the embattled Secret Service.

No security breach occurred during the 13-month period when the alarm was broken, but the OIG review found problems with identifying, reporting and tracking alarm system malfunctions and repairing and replacing alarm systems.

In 2010, a Secret Service security expert requested a replacement for an alarm system that had been installed around 1993, but the request was denied in August 2011. In July 2012, the Secret Service made “limited upgrades using repurposed and new equipment,” according to the report from Inspector General John Roth.

After an alarm system failure in September 2013, the Secret Service’s protective division placed one of the protective employees assigned to the resident in a “roving post” while others could monitor the property via cameras, the report said.

“BPD’s protocol also included ensuring all access points into the residence were locked at night,” the report said.

But since officials could not determine the exact time period when the post started, there could have been a time when protectees were in the residence without a “roving post” or alarm, the report said.

Most officials thought posting a person provided an acceptable level of security, though one official thought the alarm problem reprinted a “medium risk” and was concerned that a roving post was an “inadequate substitute.”

The report provides another example in a string of recent agency missteps dealing with security. Mr. Roth’s office said it is also investigating the 2014 White House fence-jumping incident and more recent allegations that intoxicated agents drove through a suspicious package investigation last month.

The chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in a joint statement that it is “startling and unacceptable” that the alarm remained inoperable for more than a year and that the incident adds to the growing list of “significant concerns” Congress has had with management at the agency.

“Although the Secret Service assigned employees to monitor the grounds, there is absolutely no room for error when it comes to protecting the nation’s presidents,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and the committee’s chairman, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat and the panel’s ranking member.

For his part, the 41st president weighed in Thursday morning via social media, tweeting: “Barbara and I have great respect for, and confidence in, the men and women of @SecretService. That respect and confidence has never waned.”

In mid-January 2014, the Secret Service got a permanent replacement alarm for the residence and a temporary one was installed in April 2014.

The new equipment was installed in November and December 2014, with some of the reasons for the delay provided including “accommodating a plan for installing windows and making decisions on how to install the new system.”

The report indicated that there were also issues with security equipment at the home of at least one other former president, though names were redacted. Mr. Roth said he was bringing the vulnerabilities to Secret Services Director Joseph Clancy’s attention because they may be affecting other residences.

Mr. Roth recommended that the Secret Service evaluate the status of its security equipment at all protectees’ personal residences and evaluate the process for tracking maintenance requests at residences as well.

Mr. Clancy said in response to the recommendations that the Secret Service completed needs assessments for the residences in January and that closed camera television systems were 100 percent operational at the time. Replacement of the security systems has been included in the agency’s fiscal 2017 budget plan.

Mr. Clancy also said a new process for tracking maintenance requests has been implemented using an existing tracking system for similar requests at the White House.

“It is imperative that Director Clancy act swiftly on a host of fronts to restore the American people’s confidence in this agency,” Mr. Chaffetz and Mr. Cummings said. “We are grateful for the diligent work of Inspector General Roth in bringing this issue to light. Director Clancy has assured the IG that the recommendations to resolve these problems will be implemented quickly, and we strongly urge him to maintain that commitment.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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