Any analyst covering Washington, D.C. quickly learns that exposure of utter incompetence is no guarantee of swift action by Congress or the Federal Government.
Just look at how long President George W. Bush held on to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon “geniuses,” through one bungled humiliation and national catastrophe after another — 9/11, the failure to catch Osama bin Laden, the entire Iraq war fiasco, the nation-building policy on Afghanistan, the shameful mistreatment of wounded and seriously ill vets at Walter Reed Hospital.
But at least we can count one good start.
Julia Pierson, hapless head of the U.S. Secret Service over the past year and a half, is toast.
A day after her plodding, typically mediocre, stolid testimony before a manifestly unimpressed congressional panel, she is out.
To the end, Pierson remained blind to the enormous scale, and potentially awful consequences of her own sustained, documented and systematic incompetence.
After she was forced to resign (read – “fired”) by Jeh C. Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Pierson admitted to reporter Del Quentin Wilber of Bloomberg News, “Congress has lost confidence in my ability to run the agency.”
She also told him, “I can be pretty stoic about all this, but not really. It’s painful to leave.”
In other words, no acknowledgement to the very end of everything she had done wrong, including the shameful cover-up of major aspects of several huge security breaches.
However, Homeland Security Secretary Johnson got off to a worrying start in trying to clean up the mess that Pierson left behind her. He chose another Old Guard insider, Joseph Clancy, a former agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division, to become the agency’s acting director.
For, as the New York Times reported Wednesday, “Mr. Clancy was in charge of the presidential detail the night in November 2009 when Michaele and Tareq Salahi, then a married couple, managed to get past Secret Service checkpoints for President Obama’s first state dinner without being on the guest list.”
Hopefully, Clancy’s team were responsible for identifying the pair after Pierson and her Keystone Kops let them through in the first place.
But the systematic decline and incompetence of the Secret Service, as I’ve previously written, needs a dynamo of leadership and ruthless, aggressive management to rebuild it and restore its competence and reputation.
Pierson was dim and dumb. She still doesn’t appear to realize she did anything wrong. She still doesn’t realize she was an appalling leader and manager. All her deputies will need to be fired too.
It’s one of the oldest rules of management, administration and any kind of bureaucracy that like attracts like and like hires like. Mediocre losers invariably hire people even worse than they are as their deputies and chief staffers (Just look at the civilian top officials of the Pentagon under Rumsfeld).
Therefore although Pierson is, thankfully, gone, the mess she made lives on after her. And it will continue to do so until the favorites she promoted are all rooted out.
The Secret Service cadres charged with guarding the President of the United States, his residences and family, need to be rebuilt and retrained from scratch. The most elementary lessons need to be renewed.
Failure to permanently man and secure the front door of the White House should be a firing offense for every agent and their supervisor who fall down on that job.
Only large, heavy and fast male agents should be posted for interception duty against anyone who tries to run directly into the White House. Pierson, the first female director of the Secret Service, ignored even this basic principle, obvious to every football coach in America down to school level.
Pierson lacked the most basic elements of honor, trust and integrity. She tried to cover up her most egregious bungles and hoped Congress and the Department of Homeland Security would never find out. She made a sick joke out of the Secret Service’s motto: “Worthy of Trust and Confidence.”
We should wish Clancy well, but Congress and the Department of Homeland Security should not give him long to prove his capabilities. If he can’t start acting fast to revitalize the Secret Service, it’s time to hire someone who will.
Martin Sieff is a former senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and former Managing Editor, International Affairs for United Press International. Mr. Sieff is the author of “That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs” (Wiley 2012) and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East” (Regnery, 2008). He has received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting.