WASHINGTON — The acting director of the Secret Service warned lawmakers Wednesday of "potentially dire consequences" from lowered morale and operational security at the agency. He vowed to do better.
Joseph Clancy offered the sobering assessment in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since his appointment last month to lead the embattled agency. The Secret Service has suffered a string of embarrassments, including a fence jumper who made it into the White House, which led to the resignation of its previous director.
Clancy acknowledged that the agency has fallen short of its goal of perfection. He said that being in the spotlight has had detrimental effects on employee morale and operational security, "both with potentially dire consequences."
He also offered a mea culpa over the Sept. 19 fence-jumping incident. An internal review last week detailed a string of failures that allowed a Texas Army veteran, Omar Gonzalez, to make it way all the way into the East Room.
"I found the findings devastating. What hits me hardest is the range of shortcomings that ultimately allowed Omar Gonzalez to enter the White House practically unencumbered," Clancy said.
"Although I firmly believe the Secret Service is better than this incident I openly acknowledge that a failure of this magnitude, especially in light of other recent incidents, requires immediate action and longer term reform," he said. Clancy said he's conducting a top-to-bottom assessment and is establishing new procedures, improving communications and considering other changes, including strengthening the White House fence.
An outside review of the agency also is underway.
Lawmakers told him there was no margin for error,.
"The Secret Service cannot make mistakes," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. "You're protecting the president and the president's family, there can't be mistakes."
Clancy also came under attack from lawmakers over wrong information the agency put out about the fence-jumping incident early on, including initial claims that Gonzalez was unarmed and was tackled immediately inside the White House. In fact he had a knife and made it far into the executive mansion.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, complained that no one had been disciplined over the misinformation.
"The Secret Service misled us on purpose," he said. "Was there any consequence to any personnel?"
Clancy acknowledged no punishments had been meted out but argued that the errors were unintentional.
"We know it's critical to give accurate information, and that's what our goal is, but we failed on that day," Clancy said.