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House Committee Report Finds Secret Service Is 'An Agency In Crisis'

Joseph Caputo scales a fence at the White House, triggering a lockdown on Thanksgiving Day. He was immediately apprehended by Secret Service and taken into custody.
Vanessa Pena
Joseph Caputo scales a fence at the White House, triggering a lockdown on Thanksgiving Day. He was immediately apprehended by Secret Service and taken into custody.

The Secret Service is an agency "in crisis" and one that has had its weaknesses "exposed by a series of security failures at the White House, during presidential visits, and at the residences of other officials," according to a scathing report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released Thursday.

The report was a bipartisan effort led by the committee's highest-ranking members, Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. It also suggested the agency reconsider its mission.

The committee has been looking at the agency's shortcomings since a string of embarrassing security breakdowns involving the White House and the president became public in recent years.

According to the report, there have been 143 security breaches or attempted breaches at secured facilities in the past decade. And of those, only 13 have resulted in jail time for the perpetrators, the committee found.

Investigators also found "morale is at an all-time low" within the Secret Service because of overworked personnel, shrinking budgets, a loss of confidence in top leadership and other factors.

The investigation focused on a handful of security breaches dating back to November 2011. That's when several shots were fired from a semiautomatic rifle at the White House, but it wasn't discovered for four days, until a housekeeper stumbled upon broken glass and cement debris on the floor. Another lapse was the much-publicized prostitution scandal involving Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2012.

The report also chronicles a monthlong period in 2014 in which there were six security breakdowns, beginning with a Sept. 16 incident. It involved an armed security guard with a history of violence whom the Obama's security detail allowed to ride an elevator with the president in Atlanta.

Eleven days later, a man "posing as a Member of Congress at a Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner" managed to sneak backstage unnoticed by agents at an awards gala and speak to the president, according to the report. The report adds that in yet another breach in October of last year, a woman was able to gain unauthorized access to a backstage entrance, this time at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute event.

Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service at the time, resigned in October 2014 amid the string of breaches.

The security lapses are not limited to the White House or to the president's security detail. The report cites an April 2013 breach when four adults slipped into the backyard of the vice president's residence to go fishing. The intrusion was discovered only after a neighbor saw the group and alerted the agency.

The Oversight Committee recommended changes to the agency, including immediately hiring more personnel, and suggested the next president consider a previous proposal of searching outside the Secret Service for the agency's next director.

Additionally, the committee suggested the Obama administration conduct an interagency review of the scope of the Secret Service's duties, to determine what "missions can be shed."

Read the full report here:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.