Julia Pierson’s Resignation Won’t Fix A Dysfunctional Secret Service

Joanne Butler Contributor
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While Julia Pierson’s resignation from the top spot at the Secret Service was no surprise; the roots of her resignation were no surprise to me either. As I see it, she was promoted as a result of managerial panic concerning the 2012 sex scandal involving agents doing presidential advance work in Cartagena, Columbia.

It’s a typical response when the guys act badly: let’s put a woman in charge to show everyone we’re all behaving nicely now. Was Ms. Pierson given a job that was beyond her range? Her resignation indicates the answer is yes.

Those of us in the workforce back in the 1980s may recall the corporate mania to promote women to prominent jobs – to show the public they were ‘women friendly.’ It was the era when worksite day care centers were opened to much acclaim – proving the company was ‘family friendly.’

It seems the Secret Service may have missed out on the 1980s pro-women mania, and is just now coming to grips with a workplace culture that (elsewhere) has developed over the decades so that men and women can work together. It’s not a perfect culture, as humans are flawed and have sexual urges, but it’s not the Mad Men culture of the 1960s either.

A brief check on the Secret Service’s parade of horribles shows that it took something sex-related to get the top management to take action.

Remember the Salahis from 2009? They gate-crashed Obama’s first White House Dinner. The Secret Service director at the time, Mark Sullivan, was “deeply concerned and embarrassed.

Two years later, in 2011, Sullivan was still at the top, and a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle fired at the White House. The Secret Service heard the gunfire, but an officer ordered the guards to ‘stand down’ (lower their weapons). Four days later, a housekeeper found some broken glass and a chunk of cement, and you-know-what hit the fan, as it was revealed that at least seven bullets had struck the upstairs residence, with Obama’s daughter Sasha and mother-in-law Marian Robinson inside.

In November 2012 (Sullivan in charge), we learned that eleven Secret Service agents who were doing advance work for the president’s appearance at a summit in Cartagena, Columbia, availed themselves of female company at their hotel. Things got ugly when one of the prostitutes accused two agents of failing to pay the full price for her services. Sullivan recalled the agents back to the United States.

Mark Sullivan retired in February 2013, replaced by Julia Pierson. Note that having bullets fired into the White House upstairs residence was not cause enough for Sullivan to hand in his papers.

A month later, three Secret Service agents who were protecting President Obama during a trip to Amsterdam were sent home after a night of drinking – resulting in one of the agents being passed out in the hotel hallway. The Service had installed tougher behavior rules after the Cartagena mess (including no drinking 10 hours prior to being on assignment), but the agents ignored this.

Then came last month’s startling stories of how a security contractor with a gun (and an assault record) got on an elevator with the president at a hotel in Atlanta, to be followed days later by the White House gate jumper who managed to charge deep inside the building – only to be stopped by an off-duty Secret Service officer. The end result: Julia Pierson resigns on October 1.

As a kid growing up in the D.C. suburbs, I always thought Secret Service officers were the smartest, bravest guys ever. I recall a teacher telling us about President Kennedy’s assassination, and how he paused at the name of the agent who, as the bullets flew, covered the president’s body with his own: Rufus Youngblood. That’s a name to remember.

Today, thousands of people stroll in front of the White House, ignoring a modest plaque on the Blair House fence. It commemorates the only Secret Service officer killed in the line of duty — Mr. Leslie Coffelt. In November 1950 he was killed when two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate President Truman during Truman’s daily walk around Lafayette Park. Although mortally wounded, Coffelt managed to kill his attacker.

Where are today’s Rufus Youngbloods and Leslie Coffelts? Have they been replaced by a bunch of frat house boys, or cops with loads of gear and Attention Deficit Disorder? Why did the Service’s upper echelon think that replacing an ineffective male superior with an ineffective female would magically fix the agency’s problems?

The Secret Service today is a dishonor to the memories of Rufus Youngblood and Leslie Coffelt. President Obama, his family, and the American people deserve a Secret Service that actually serves.