Save the Secret Service: Remove it from the Department of Homeland Security

Recent Secret Service security incidents and the resignation of its Director have triggered Congressional calls for a top-down management review.  Inasmuch as Secret Service reports to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one would hope that DHS does not manage that review.  There is a clear need for competence and objectivity.  The review should conclude that moving Secret Service back to the Treasury Department is essential to restoring its effectiveness.

Examples of DHS incompetence are legion. In a recent speech before over 200 chemical industry managers, a DHS senior executive advised the audience to note that he is the only speaker that does not have a PowerPoint presentation.  He stated that no one can get a PowerPoint approved in DHS, and, that never have so few been managed by so many.

One of DHS’s major responsibilities is chemical and petroleum security.  It took DHS nearly four years to produce a risk assessment model.  Never mind that there were many pre-existing models from US national laboratories that could have been used immediately.  DHS then was tasked with implementation of the Chemical Security Act of 2006.  They tried to tier rank the chemical industry in terms of their processes and related risk potential.  Over 4000 companies were screened into the tier requiring vulnerability assessments and security plans.  If they did not do it right and exactly as scheduled, those companies were threatened with fines, penalties, shut downs and lawsuits.  Four years later, thanks to a whistle blower, it was disclosed to the US Senate that DHS had failed to review one single submission.  The DHS senior executive explained that they recognized problems and had developed a 92 element corrective action plan.

In 2010, after regular praise from officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the 77 intelligence centers were deemed to have become pools of ineptitude, waste and civil liberties intrusions, according to a scathing 141-page report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations.  “In reality, the Subcommittee investigation found that the intelligence centers often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever,” the report said. Financial questions were pervasive, with the report saying oversight has been so lax that department officials do not know exactly how much has been spent on the centers. The official estimates varied between $289 million and $1.4 billion—so much for DHS numbers.

In terms of personnel management, Senator Grassley reported allegations from a whistleblower that DHS assigned employees to non-existent field offices, which subsequently led to employees working from home while claiming to be located at phantom offices. A byproduct of this, according Grassley, was that some employees lived in low locality pay areas while claiming duty stations in high locality pay areas and thus received improper locality pay. In addition, equipment was allegedly purchased through the program that the agency had no use for, such as HAZMAT suits and hundreds of notebook computers.  The whistleblower also alleged that DHS Undersecretary Rand Beers refused to report these abuses to the inspector general when he was made aware of them in a memo.

President Obama recently signed Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD 21).  This stipulates that PPD 21 will be a “successor” to previous measures, such as the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP).  The real reason for this is that DHS has failed to implement the NIPP according to scope and schedule and PPD 21 will provide cover for their incompetence.  It would be interesting to see the current implementation status of PPD 21 requirements.

So, in this DHS environment, Secret Service faces competition for resources and decisions from over 25 agencies and over 250,000 employees.  Instead of direct reports to the Secretary of Treasury through one assistant secretary, there are multiple layers for everything.  Secret Service is down over 500 positions and cannot seem to get the approvals for a fast track hiring process.  The same can be said for procurement processes.   The result is staff exhaustion.  FBI, CIA, DEA and ATF emerged from the post 9/11 environment in tact.  Using those models, an independent organization, like GAO, should be used for the top down management review mandated by Congress.

Mr. Piper retired from the US Secret Service after a 20-year career having served as a manager of the Forensic Sciences Division and the Technical Security Division.  Mr. Piper was responsible for security engineering and risk management at the White House and Treasury Department complexes, and other related facilities. Mr. Piper possesses an MS from University of Pennsylvania.

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