The head of the Secret Service promised lawmakers a “complete and thorough” investigation and policy review Tuesday, on the heels of a new report that revealed the man who jumped the White House fence on Sept. 19 got further into the President’s home than previously thought.
“I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again,” Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said in prepared remarks to a House oversight panel. “It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly.”
The Washington Post reported Monday that Omar Gonzalez made it further into the White House than previously disclosed, getting all the way to the East Room before being subdued.
“There is no such thing as ‘business as usual’ in our line of work; we have to be successful 100 percent of the time, and we are constantly making changes and doing everything possible to ensure that we are,” Pierson said, noting that the Secret Service has apprehended 16 White House fence jumpers over the past five years, including six in 2014.
“I intend over the coming months to redouble my efforts, not only in response to this incident, but in general to bring the Secret Service to a level of performance that lives up to the vital mission we perform, the important individuals we protect, and the American people we serve.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who called Tuesday’s hearing while Congress is in recess, said the most recent security lapse called for greater scrutiny on the agency. Calling an internal Secret Service investigation “not sufficient,” Issa requested that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson conduct a “far greater and more independent” probe of the agency.
“Whether deficient procedures, insufficient training, personnel shortages, or low morale contributed to the incident, this can never happen again,” he said in his opening statement. “We simply cannot allow it.”
Issa said Pierson, who was appointed in 2013, had some “tough questions to answer” following the Gonzalez incident, including why the front door was left unlocked and why neither security dogs nor guards could stop the man from hurling himself over the fence, running 70 yards and into the White House.
The White House invasion is the latest in a string of high-profile embarrassments for the agency —including the 2009 state dinner crashers, the 2011 White House shooting and the 2012 Cartagena prostitution incident—but the first to occur on Pierson’s watch.
“The appointment of Director Pierson brought the hope that the agency would reclaim its noble image—but recent events show the troubles facing the agency are far from over,” Issa said. “The United States Secret Service was an elite law enforcement agency.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the incident “unfortunately causes many people to ask whether there is a much broader problem with the Secret Service.”
“I think my major concern goes to the culture,” Cummings said. “It is very disturbing to know that Secret Service agents in the most elite protective agency in the world feel more comfortable apparently—from what I’m hearing—coming to members of this committee and telling things than coming to you and members in the agency. That I’m telling you, when I boil all of this down, that to me is dangerous.”
Cummings added that the “jury is still out” on whether or not Pierson can “correct this situation.”