U.S. Secret Service:

Further Actions Needed to Fully Address Protective Mission Panel Recommendations

GAO-19-415: Published: May 22, 2019. Publicly Released: May 22, 2019.

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After an intruder ran past Secret Service personnel and entered the White House in 2014, an independent review panel found that this incident arose from a “catastrophic failure of training" in the Secret Service.

We found that the Secret Service implemented 11 of this panel's recommendations, but has yet to fully address the remaining 8. For example, the panel recommended that certain Secret Service agents train for 25% of their work time. However, these agents trained for 6% or less of their work hours in FY 2018.

We recommended that the Secret Service develop and implement a plan to reach its annual training targets.

Share of Regular Work Hours of Certain Special Agents Spent in Training, FYs 2014-2018

A bar graph showing that these divisions generally spent around 6% and 3% of their time in training, respectively.

A bar graph showing that these divisions generally spent around 6% and 3% of their time in training, respectively.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Nathan Anderson
(202) 512-3841
AndersonN@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The U.S. Secret Service (Secret Service) has made progress implementing the 19 recommendations related to training and personnel; technology, perimeter security, and operations; and leadership made by the U.S. Secret Service Protective Mission Panel (Panel). The Secret Service fully implemented 11 of the recommendations. For example, the agency increased the number of agents and officers in the divisions that protect the President and White House and secured approval to build a new fence around the White House complex.

The Secret Service is in the process of implementing the remaining eight recommendations. The Panel found that the security incident of September 19, 2014, when an intruder jumped the north fence and entered the White House, arose from a “catastrophic failure of training.” The Panel recommended, and the Secret Service agreed, that the Presidential and Vice Presidential Protective Divisions train for 25 percent of their work time. However, the Secret Service has not met this target and lacks a plan for achieving it. In fiscal year 2018, special agents assigned to these divisions trained for about 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively, of their regular work hours (see figure). In commenting on a draft of this report in May 2019, the Secret Service stated that it no longer agrees with the training target and plans to reevaluate it. Developing and implementing a plan for ensuring that the established training target is met given current and planned staffing levels would better ensure that agents assigned to the Presidential and Vice Presidential Protective Divisions are prepared to carry out Secret Service's protection priority.

Share of Regular Work Hours Special Agents Assigned to the Presidential and Vice Presidential Protective Divisions Spent in Training, Fiscal Years 2014–2018

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In addition, the Secret Service does not have a policy with a documented process for collecting complete and appropriate (i.e., protection-related) training hour data for Uniformed Division officers. Implementing such a policy will better position the Secret Service to assess the training data and make informed decisions about whether and how training needs are being met.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Secret Service, a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for protecting the President, the Vice President, and their families, as well as the White House complex. In October 2014, following several security lapses, the Secretary of Homeland Security established the Panel, an independent panel of experts, to review White House security and other aspects of Secret Service operations.

The Secret Service Recruitment and Retention Act of 2018 contains a provision for GAO to report on the progress made by the Secret Service in implementing the Panel's recommendations. This report addresses the extent to which the Secret Service has implemented the recommendations in the Panel's 2014 report. GAO reviewed Secret Service documents, analyzed agency training and labor-distribution data from fiscal years 2014 through 2018, and interviewed agency officials and Panel members.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making recommendations to the Secret Service: (1) develop and implement a plan to ensure that special agents assigned to the Presidential and Vice Presidential Protective Divisions reach annual training targets, and (2) develop and implement a policy that documents the process for collecting complete and appropriate data on Uniformed Division officer training. DHS concurred with the two recommendations.

For more information, contact Nathan Anderson at (202) 512-3841 or AndersonN@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2019 we reported that the Secret Service had not met the established training target (25 percent of work time) and lacked a plan for achieving it. We therefore recommended that the Director of the Secret Service develop and implement a plan to ensure that special agents assigned to the Presidential Protective Division and the Vice Presidential Protective Division reach annual training targets given current and planned staffing levels. The agency concurred with our recommendation. Towards addressing this recommendation, in October 2019, the Secret Service reported that the Office of Protective Operations is currently soliciting training requirements from each internal operational division, including the Presidential and Vice Presidential Protective Divisions, to determine the appropriate amount of training and associated training hours for each division. They further reported that once reviewed, the training requirements are to inform the agency's revised Human Capital Strategic Plan. The revised Human Capital Strategic Plan is to include an overview of Office of Protective Operations' training requirements and corresponding staffing needs. The Secret Service anticipates a revised Human Capital Strategic Plan to be available by the end of January 2020. The Secret Service's efforts to reevaluate the training requirements and targets are a positive first step. However, Secret Service's actions are not fully consistent with the recommendation. Specifically, in its updated response, the Secret Service stated that training hours for Presidential Protective Division and Vice Presidential Protective Division special agents training will only increase once the agency nears its ultimate staffing target. This is inconsistent with our recommendation to establish a plan to ensure these special agents reach annual training targets given current staffing levels. In the interim, affected special agents may continue to lack training required to prevent security breaches, such as that of September 19, 2019, when an intruder jumped the north fence and entered the White House. We will continue to monitor the Secret Service's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Secret Service should develop and implement a plan to ensure that special agents assigned to Presidential Protective Division and Vice Presidential Protective Division reach annual training targets given current and planned staffing levels. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Secret Service

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2019 we reported that training data collected on the Secret Service's Uniform Division were incomplete and in certain cases unrelated to protection or lacked descriptions to clearly link the training to required skills. Further, the process used to capture the data was not consistently employed and did not include information on how or whether to capture internal on-the-job training instances, or instruction on the type of training to be captured to demonstrate that the training is protection-related training. We therefore recommended that the Director of the Secret Service develop and implement a policy that documents the process for collecting complete Uniformed Division officer training data and establishes the types of information that should be collected. The Secret Service, through DHS, concurred with our recommendation, stating that it would develop rigorous and uniform standards for collecting and reporting training data related to the Uniformed Division branch, and would work to capture additional training information. In response to our recommendation, in October 2019 the Secret Service reported that the Uniformed Division has worked with the Office of Training and Performance and Learning Management System (PALMS) team to capture Uniformed Division training requirements. The requirements are to include the 20 formalized on-the-job training programs for officers assigned to the Uniformed Division's White House, Foreign Missions, and Naval Observatory Branches, or one of the Special Operations Branch specialized units. In addition, the Secret Service stated that approximately 19 micro-training courses (also known as Roll Call Training) are currently captured within PALMS-the Department of Homeland Security's learning management system -and additional formalized on-the-job training programs are being reviewed for inclusion in PALMS. According to the Secret Service, use of PALMS should help ensure that the process for collecting and recording Uniformed Officer training is standardized and monitored. The Secret Service's efforts to capture additional training information in PALMS is a positive development. However, we have not yet observed progress towards the Secret Service's implementation of a policy that documents the process for collecting complete Uniformed Division officer training data and establishes the types of information that should be collected, as we recommended. We will continue to monitor the Secret Service's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Secret Service should develop and implement a policy that documents the process for collecting complete Uniformed Division officer training data and establishes the types of information that should be collected. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Secret Service

 

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