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Secret Service leadership

By protecting the president, the Secret Service also protects the integrity of the nation’s system of government. While recent leadership changes didn't go outside the organization, we hope the Secret Service overcomes its recent spate of gaffes.
By protecting the president, the Secret Service also protects the integrity of the nation’s system of government. While recent leadership changes didn't go outside the organization, we hope the Secret Service overcomes its recent spate of gaffes.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Changing the culture of an organization is difficult and often painful. It generally requires new leadership completely divorced from old ways and procedures, free from complicating ties to existing personnel.

Joseph Clancy, named this week as the new director of the U.S. Secret Service, doesn’t fit the definition of new blood, and that raises concerns. Few agencies in the federal government are as important as the one charged with protecting the president.

Significantly, President Barack Obama’s decision to change Clancy’s status from temporary to permanent director flew in the face of a recommendation by a bipartisan panel studying White House security, which was that the new director be someone from the outside.

In a report issued Dec. 15, that group said, “The panel has concluded that the service needs strong, new leadership that can drive change within the organization.” It noted that many within the organization feel the new leader must have served within the Secret Service but said, “we believe that at this time in the agency's history, the need for service experience is outweighed by what the service needs today: dynamic leadership that can move the service forward into a new era and drive change in the organization.”

Clancy served in the Secret Service for 27 years. He is the former special agent in charge of protecting the president and has developed a trusted relationship with Obama.

Writing in a Washington Times op-ed on Wednesday, investigative reporter Ronald Kessler raised troubling questions about Clancy’s failure to directly answer questions by the House Judiciary Committee about why the service misled the press last fall about the extent of a serious White House breach. This and Clancy’s response to a decision to divert agents from the White House to another assignment “made him the poster child for what is wrong with the Secret Service and its cover-up culture…,” he wrote.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has been studying Secret Service lapses as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, was equally critical. USA Today quoted him as saying the service needs a leader “free from allegiances and without ties to what has consistently been described as a ‘good old boys network.’”

The Secret Service’s lapses in recent years have been well documented. They range from last fall’s breach involving a man walking into the White House carrying a knife and agents bringing prostitutes into their hotel rooms in Colombia to allowing intruders into a White House state dinner in 2009.

Luckily, none of these resulted in any serious threats to the president or his family, but they easily could have if perpetrated by someone with a determined intent to do harm.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who appointed the panel last year, said the president considered many candidates outside the Secret Service before deciding to hire Clancy. The White House said Clancy has “credibility within the agency.”

Certainly, the president should be the one to decide who leads the organization ultimately responsible for his own protection. But he is not a security expert.

We hope Clancy lives up to his billing and proves our concerns to be overblown. By protecting the president, the Secret Service also protects the integrity of the nation’s system of government and its democratic process. That’s no small matter in this dangerous age.