- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The new head of the Secret Service came under withering criticism from Congress on Tuesday for the agency’s chronic security blunders, investigative failures and alcohol-fueled misadventures that one lawmaker said resembled “a screenplay for some comedy.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and House Oversight and Government Affairs chairman, blasted Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy especially for the agency’s mishandling of a March 4 incident in which a female motorist placed a suspicious package on a sidewalk near the White House.

She told agents it was a bomb and drove off, but it took the Secret Service 27 minutes to secure the scene.

Mr. Chaffetz, his voice rising, told Mr. Clancy that the episode displayed a lack of urgency when President Obama’s life could have been at stake.

“I want her taken down,” Mr. Chaffetz said of the woman who made the bomb threat. “I want her in custody immediately. We’re not playing games. I want to see determination. This is the United States of America. The threat is real. But I don’t see it.”

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, warned Mr. Clancy that his job was “under a high-powered microscope.”

“We will not rest until we get [the agency] back where we need to be,” Mr. Cummings said.

Mr. Clancy, a 27-year veteran of the force who was named permanent director by Mr. Obama last month, defended his record but said he understands the agency has staffing and training problems that need to be fixed.

“I’ve protected four presidents who apparently respect the work that I’ve done,” Mr. Clancy said. “We know what we’re doing. I know we’re not a perfect agency. We definitely have a problem, and we’re going to fix it. I am moving to rebuild, restructure and reinvigorate the Secret Service.”

He added, “The president is safe, the first family is safe and the White House is safe. But it’s not an easy task.”

The oversight hearing covered a wide range of problems at the agency, from a lack of quality job applicants to the inability to prevent a fence-jumper last year from running all the way into the White House. But the March 4 incident drew the most questions, in part because two allegedly intoxicated Secret Service agents blundered onto the crime scene about 30 minutes after the woman deposited the suspicious package.

Mr. Clancy acknowledged that his agency has a problem with alcohol abuse that have fueled some of the recent high-profile blunders.

“In most of our recent cases, alcohol has been involved,” Mr. Clancy said. “That is clearly something I’m concerned about, and we’re looking at how to address that.”

The two agents, including the second-in-command of Mr. Obama’s protective detail, allegedly drove a government vehicle into the bomb-threat crime scene after coming back from another agent’s retirement party. Mr. Clancy told House investigators that his agency had very little videotape of the incident because the Secret Service destroys its surveillance videotapes after 72 hours.

Lawmakers criticized Mr. Clancy for turning over the agency’s limited videotape of the incident to the Department of Homeland Security’s office of inspector general, which is investigating the episode, while refusing to give turn over the tapes to the committee.

When Mr. Clancy said he “will show all the video at any time of day or night,” Mr. Chaffetz interrupted.

“With all due respect, that’s not true,” he said. “You’ve shown us less than one minute of video.”

Since the episode, Mr. Clancy said he has changed the agency’s policy to preserve all surveillance video for seven days. The agents in question have been reassigned to desk duty pending the investigation.

Several lawmakers also criticized Mr. Clancy for failing to make available several other Secret Service officials whom the committee wanted to question at the hearing. Mr. Chaffetz said of the missing witnesses, “We’re going to drag these people in and have a discussion.”

Mr. Clancy replied that the officials in question were “rank and file” who “didn’t sign up” for hostile questioning at a public hearing.

“I didn’t think it was proper to have them in an open hearing giving testimony,” he said.

Mr. Chaffetz said the bomb-threat incident is part of “a litany of recent mishaps [that] raise major concerns.”

“This has to stop,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “We need to understand why these incidents keep happening.”

Mr. Clancy said he was incensed that he only learned about the incident five days later from a former agent.

“The fact that I did not learn about this allegation until five days [later] … infuriates me,” Mr. Clancy told the committee. “This is unacceptable. Our mission is too important for this to happen. It undermines my leadership.”

Mr. Chaffetz said the Secret Service also bungled the chase for the woman in the car, following her for a brief time until an agent was mistakenly ordered to stop following her and to pursue another car — the wrong car.

The woman was arrested three days later by another police agency in Virginia on an unrelated charge.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, Wisconsin Republican, said the Secret Service is damaging its reputation with incidents like the agents who drove into the crime scene.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Mr. Grothman said. “It’s almost a screenplay for some comedy or something like that.”

Mr. Clancy said the vast majority of the agency’s 6,500 employees should not be portrayed “in a negative light.”

But he also said the Secret Service’s employees are being “crushed,” especially those in the uniformed division, with mandatory overtime and unpredictable schedules.

“They’re routinely held over for an additional four hours, or their days off are canceled,” he said.

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