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Review Panel: Secret Service Lacks Leadership

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

After a fence-jumping incident at the White House in September, a government panel was ordered to take a close look at the U.S. Secret Service. They found that the agency guarding the president lacks leadership, is understaffed and has poorly trained officers. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The panel's findings serve to highlight the well-documented problems of the Secret Service. They were exposed when an Army veteran climbed over the White House fence and made it all the way to the East Room of the building before he was stopped. First, the panel says a new fence needs to be built around the White House grounds as soon as possible, one that's taller and with features to deter future fence-climbers.

But the report says the problems facing the Secret Service go deeper than a new fence. In plain language, the panel found an organization starved for leadership. It recommends the next director come from outside the agency. A common critique panel members heard was the service is too insular. It says training has fallen far below acceptable levels, both for the agents who protect the president and for the uniformed officers who guard the grounds. And it says more agents and officers are needed. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, appearing on MSNBC yesterday, called the recommendations astute, thorough and fair.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEH JOHNSON: There are more fundamental, systemic issues with the Secret Service that I think need to be addressed and that cannot be addressed overnight.

NAYLOR: But Johnson says Homeland Security is committed to changing the Secret Service and ensuring that it has what it needs to get the job done. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

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