UCF alumna resigns after White House security breaches
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday, a day after her congressional testimony about lapses in President Obama's security drew calls for her dismissal. VPC
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, a UCF alumna, resigned Wednesday, a day after her congressional testimony about lapses in President Obama's security drew calls for her dismissal.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who accepted Pierson's resignation, also announced that a panel of "independent experts" would review the overall performance of the Secret Service, which has been accused of failures that have put Obama's life at risk.
"By December 15, 2014, this panel will submit to me its own assessment and recommendations concerning security of the White House compound," Johnson said in a statement.
The agency is under attack over incidents that include an intruder who broke into the White House a week and a half ago, gunshots fired at the executive mansion in 2011, and an armed security guard with a felony record who was allowed into close proximity to the president during a recent visit to Atlanta.
Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the Secret Service who became director last year, told Bloomberg News that her resignation is "in the best interest" of the agency and the American public.
"Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency," Pierson told Bloomberg. "The media has made it clear that this is what they expected ... I can be pretty stoic about it, but not really. It's painful to leave as the agency is reeling from a significant security breach."
Johnson said he would also ask the independent commission "to submit to me recommendations for potential new directors of the Secret Service," including candidates from outside the agency.
In the meantime, Johnson announced that Pierson would be replaced on an interim basis by ex-Secret Service official Joseph Clancy, a former special agent in charge of the president's protective detail who retired in 2011.
Obama phoned Pierson on Wednesday to thank her for her service, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
While Obama and his aides have expressed support for Pierson in recent days, Earnest said the president agreed to the change, and "concluded new leadership of that agency was required,"
Pierson "took responsibility for the shortcomings of the agency that she led, and she took responsibility for fixing them," Earnest said. "That, quite simply, I think, is a testament to her professionalism and to her character."
The moves came less than two weeks after a man scaled the White House fence and made his way into the executive mansion before being caught. In addition, it took days for the Secret Service to disclose that the man, who had a knife, made it as far as the East Room of the executive mansion before he was subdued.
The Obamas had left the White House just minutes before the break-in took place.
The accused man, Omar J. Gonzalez, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges of entering a restricted building while carrying a deadly weapon.
Officials also disclosed this week that, during a Sept. 16 presidential visit to Atlanta, agents allowed an armed security guard — a man with a criminal record — to get close to Obama, a violation of Secret Service protocols.
Critics of the Secret Service also raised questions about how it handled a 2011 incident in which a man fired gunshots at the White House.
Pierson testified about these issues before a House committee Wednesday, and her performance was criticized from lawmakers in both parties.
Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were among those who called for Pierson's removal in the hours leading up her resignation.
Schumer said "the administration did the right thing" by moving quickly on new leadership for the Secret Service. He also backed the independent review, saying "the series of breaches has been serious and hard to explain."
Pierson took over the agency last year amid a series of controversies that included an incident in which agents doing advance work for a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia, brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms in 2012.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., another critic of Pierson, said he respects her decision to resign, and "now we have to ensure that we focus on the difficult work of fully restoring the Secret Service to its rightful status as the most elite protective service in the world."