The U.S. Secret Service confirmed on Saturday that they are planning to hire more than 1,000 officers and agents following months of intense scrutiny of the security measures in place to protect the President and the White House. Reuters reported that the federal agency will add 700 uniformed division officers and 400 agents over the next five years. Stagnating funds, turnover in leadership positions and embarrassing scandals have revealed cracks in the armor of the 150-year-old agency in recent years.
Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor declined to cite a specific number, but said that the agency was conducting a massive hiring initiative. Mainor said increased hiring is one of the three items the Secret Service is working on to respond to the recommendations of an independent review panel late last year that the Secret Service is stretched too thin and, in many cases, beyond its limits. The other two items are making improvements to security at the White House, including a new study of its architectural design, and increasing and diversifying the training that agents receive.
The Secret Service has been scrutinized by the public and Congress this year after the revelation of a number of high-profile incidents in which President Obama’s safety was called into question. The revelations included reports of a fence-jumper overpowering an agency and entering deep into the White House, a shooter firing into the White House, and a man with a gun entering an elevator with the president. Most recently, two senior agents crashed a government owned vehicle into a security barricade at the White House complex last winter, after having been drinking. Last month, Congress mandated the federal agency to add at least 200 more officers and 85 agents.
Uniformed division officers are mainly based in Washington and are responsible for the security of the White House and the vice president’s residence. Agents, who require more education and training, are assigned to criminal investigations and guarding the president whenever he is in public. Joseph Clancy, who has led the service since October, has faced intense pressure by Congress to turn the Secret Service around and address questions over whether its divided mission is diverting attention from providing security for the president.
The Secret Service first began the work of presidential protection in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley. In recent years, its mandate has grown to include investigations of cyber theft, credit card fraud and hacking attacks on financial, banking and telecommunications infrastructure. Over the past decade, the agency’s manpower levels stagnated and its funding increases failed to keep pace with growth in overall federal spending, Secret Service budget data show.
The hiring plan also coincides with a projected 16 percent increase in the Secret Service’s budget to $2.2 billion in the 2016 fiscal year, its biggest budget since entering the Department of Homeland Security. The agency has also been accused of favoring men in promotions and condoning racism, a point reinforced in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2000 by black agents who accused the Secret Service of a pattern of failing to address allegations of racial discrimination over many years.