WASHINGTON — The Secret Service wants $8 million to build a replica White House to help train agents after an embarrassing security breach last year.
Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy says the agency needs the training facility in Beltsville, Maryland, about 20 miles from the real executive mansion, to provide agents and officers more realistic training experience.
He says training is now done in a parking lot but the parking lot doesn’t have the bushes and fountains as the White House grounds do.
In September, a man armed with a knife was able to climb over a White House fence, dart through thick bushes and run deep into the mansion before being subdued.
Clancy made his pitch Tuesday to a House Appropriations subcommittee, where he also said that two senior agents accused of being involved in a drunken-driving crash at the White House earlier this month appeared to “nudge” a large construction barrier as they drove through a secure area. He said he didn’t find out about the incident until days afterward.
Clancy, who was appointed by President Barack Obama earlier this year after a shakeup in the agency over security problems, told lawmakers that video of the March 4 incident shows the vehicle driving at a low rate of speed when it nudged the barrier.
The incident was initially described in press reports as an agent crashing a government vehicle into a security barrier while on-duty agents and officers investigated a suspicious item. But Clancy told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee that he has “seen nothing to indicate this incident as described occurred.”
Nonetheless, he said he was frustrated that he was not told about the incident for several days and only learned about it from an anonymous email.
“I should have been informed,” he told the House panel. And that delay, he said, suggests there is still a lot of work to be done to change the agency’s culture, including the use of alcohol.
Clancy acknowledged that some agents and officers have used alcohol to help deal with the job’s stresses, but insisted that it was a small group.
“Unfortunately we have an element, and I believe it is small element, that is causing this agency great distress,” Clancy said.
Lawmakers, including Rep. David Young, an Iowa Republican, pressed Clancy on why the agents involved in the latest incident have not been fired.
“I’m surprised that these two agents…haven’t stood up and said ‘I resign.’ What do you do with them?” Young asked.
Clancy said the investigation has been turned over to the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general. Until that probe is completed, the agents will remain reassigned to desk jobs outside the White House and can’t be fired, he said.
Clancy took over the agency on an interim basis late last year after a series of presidential security breaches, including an incident in which a Texas man armed with a knife was able to climb over a White House fence and make it deep into the executive mansion before being subdued.
The security breaches were the latest embarrassments for the agency in recent years. In 2012 the Secret Service became the subject of late-night comedians after more than a dozen agents were wrapped up in a prostitution scandal in Colombia. There have been several other incidents since then involved agents accused of drunken behavior while on presidential trips.
ALICIA A. CALDWELL, Associated Press