Obama's Secret Service 'Heckuva job, Brownie' moment

The gods of irony struck the federal government hard yesterday.  Julia Pierson, the head of the Secret Service, an agency renowned for keeping its mouth shut, abruptly resigned just a few hours after receiving a hearty endorsement (“more than qualified for her job”) from White House press secretary Josh Earnest, and a press briefing the day before largely devoted to defending her performance and her brave “taking responsibility.” The Secret Service is telling us a tale, and it ain’t pretty.

Embarrassment stacked upon embarrassment characterizes this fiasco, which, in its depth and drama, crystallizes the emerging narrative of the Obama administration mired in incompetence, political correctness, and cover-ups. It got so bad for Team Obama that an intervention from the grown-ups (such as they are) in the congressional wing of the Democratic Party was required to nudge the White House into demanding Pierson resign. The specter of the likes of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and Senator Chuck Schumer demanding Person’s head and the White House complying shortly after reveals a leadership vacuum almost as alarming as the lead-from-behind national security chaos enveloping the foreign policy of the United States.

 Here are a few of the lessons the Secret Service involuntarily teaches us:

Affirmative action can be deadly

Nobody ever admits that affirmative action motivated an appointment, but Ms. Pierson, the first ever female head of the Secret Service, reached the pinnacle of her career in the wake of a prostitution scandal that demonstrated a horndog culture among the male agents. The female agent assigned to the front door of the White House when Omar Gonzalez gained entry and “overpowered” her, was required to meet far lower standards of physical strength than her male colleagues.  John McCormack writes in the Weekly Standard:

According to the Secret Service, male recruits in their twenties need to perform 11 chin-ups to receive an "excellent" rating; performing four chin-ups or fewer would disqualify him from serving as a Secret Service agent. 

But for a female recruit in her twenties, four chin-ups would earn her an "excellent" rating; just one chin-up is enough for her to avoid the disqualifying "very poor" rating.

Different physical standards for males and females are common in police and fire departments across America, for the reason that if uniform standards were applied, the number of women employees would not meet the requirements of the affirmative action czars at the Justice Department. The costs of the wink-and-nudge policy are not usually visible, but the White House is a stage that cannot be ignored. So serious is this issue to the liberal establishment that the Washington Post stealthily removed reference to the gender of the overpowered agent from its coverage, obviously fearful of the conclusions that might be drawn.

Cover-ups are a way of life in the federal bureaucracy

The straw that broke the camel’s back apparently was the revelation, courtesy of the Washington Examiner, that an un-vetted armed security guard at the Centers for Disease Control was allowed to board an elevator with the president during his visit there. The guard just happened to be a felon. Only the Grace of God saved the president from a possible assassination. No incident reports were filed, and Ms. Pierson remained apparently blissfully ignorant of a security lapse that could have resulted in a historic disaster.

The Department of Homeland Security is toxic

It is a standing joke among travelers that Homeland Security accomplishes very little while employing vast numbers of agents who focus their attention on the walkers and canes of elderly grandmothers. Political correctness reigns supreme, pretending that elderly Lutherans from North Dakota are every bit as likely to be terrorists as Middle Eastern Muslim males in their twenties. And stultifying bureaucracy prevents capable people from acting with effectiveness. Ron Fournier writes in National Journal:

"We are who we are because we aren't a bureaucracy," a senior Secret Service official told me in February 2003, a month before DHS swallowed the service.

At the Treasury Department, the Secret Service's leadership had autonomy, and its agents were encouraged to consider themselves elite. The Secret Service was not just the leading law-enforcement agency at Treasury, it was at the apex of the entire profession. Only the best cops became agents.

The Secret Service leadership could draw on the agency's reputation and relative independence to defend its budget, its professionalism, and its mission from political encroachment. Before 2003, the director of the Secret Service was a player—somebody even the president and members of Congress had to think twice about crossing.

By contrast, Pierson—and, I would argue, any Secret Service director inside the DHS labyrinth—was just another bureaucrat fighting for turf, money, and autonomy in one of the largest, least efficient agencies in Washington. As we see at the Internal Revenue Service, the National Football League, and the many other acronymed entities, it's easy to lose sight of your calling from inside an ossified institution. 

A bureaucratic morass in an agency charged with writing rules for mattresses is bad, but dysfunction in agencies charged with keeping us safe is alarming.

In all likelihood, the wrong lessons will be learned. Steven Hayward explains why:

Prediction: Like airport security lines after the failed underwear bomber, the Secret Service is going to adapt in all kinds of stupid but visible ways to “show” that they’re being tougher on potential security threats to the President.  They’ll probably start by closing up Manhattan island completely next time Obama goes to a fundraiser.

I am fearful for the life of President Obama. An assassination would set off huge civil unrest, Republicans and conservatives would be blamed (as they were when a communist trained in Moscow assassinated JFK), and the fate of the Republic would be entrusted to Joseph Biden.

Pray for Obama’s safety!