The U.S. Secret Service came under the congressional microscope once again Tuesday, with lawmakers seeking answers about agents who wrongly accessed a fellow congressman's personnel file.
On Sept. 30, the agency's inspector general released a report confirming that Secret Service employees accessed and circulated House Oversight and Government Affairs Chairman Jason Chaffetz's 2003 application for a job at the agency, after Chaffetz's probe of mishaps at the Secret Service. The incident prompted Homeland Security subcommittees of jurisdiction from the House and Senate to hold a joint hearing.
"The American people deserve answers," said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency. "As disturbing as this incident is, it is only one example of other instances where Secret Service employees showed very poor judgment and leadership failed to act.” Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy reiterated his apology for the incident Tuesday, and said it was unacceptable.
What You Missed: Joint Hearing on Secret Service Privacy Violations
“This misconduct outlined in the report is inexcusable and unacceptable. This conduct is not supportive of the agency’s unique position of public trust," Clancy said. "On behalf of the men and women of the Secret Service, I wold like to publicly renew my apology for this breach of trust and affirm my commitment to restoring it."
Clancy also sought to address his own involvement in the issue, which caused the IG to reopen the probe into the incident. He noted that he originally told the IG he heard the rumor about employees accessing Chaffetz's file at the beginning of April. But, upon reading the draft of the IG report, he remembered he actually heard the rumor a week earlier, and informed the IG of his revised statement.
The director also outlined steps the agency has taken since the revelation that employees potentially violated the law and agency policy. Clancy said "several dozen” employees have been administered disciplinary proposals and “more are on the way.” Later, Clancy said around 42 employees will be issued disciplinary actions ranging from three to 12 days of suspension. He also said the system employees used to access applicant record files has reduced the number of employees with access to the system by 95 percent.
But the lawmakers at Tuesday's hearing also looked to address problems in the agency that extend beyond the Chaffetz incident, citing cultural, management and leadership issues they say persist in the Secret Service.
"With respect to recommendations of the protective mission, tremendous progress has been made in all areas," Clancy told the lawmakers gathered in the Capitol Visitor Center hearing room. He noted that the agency has altered its management structure, hired new members and expanded training opportunities. But, he acknowledged, more changes to address issues at the agency will also take time.
While lawmakers commended the agency's work, particularly during Pope Francis' September visit to the United States, they were still skeptical and questioned the culture of the agency.
“In every incident that we know of, there seems like there wasn’t an adult in the room," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. "That there was no one who provided that voice of saying, ‘Hey guys, this is not the way we do this.’”
Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth also testified at the hearing, along with Joel Willemssen, managing director of information technology issues at the Government Accountability Office.
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