Fast Facts

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.

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Highlights

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.

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Recommendations

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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Secret Service 1. 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)
Open
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, including training requirements and corresponding staffing needs. Since then, in September 2020, the Secret Service reported that it implemented and completed upgrades to its learning management systems and policies for special agents, including the Presidential Protective Division and Vice Presidential Protective Division for the purpose of tracking training targets in a more efficient and streamlined process. In addition, officials stated that they placed a training representative in Presidential Protective Division and Vice Presidential Protective Division to ensure personnel are receiving the appropriate training on a regular basis. While these additional actions taken are helpful, they do not address our recommendation to develop and implement a plan to reach annual training targets at the current and planned staffing levels. Moreover, the Secret Service has not yet determined an appropriately revised training target. In the interim, affected special agents may continue to lack training required to prevent security breaches, such as that of September 19, 2014, 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.
United States Secret Service 2. 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)
Open
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 September 2020, Secret Service officials reported that it upgraded the Performance and Learning Management System (PALMS) for purposes of tracking training records and training targets in a more efficient and streamlined process for all Uniformed Division officer training. According to Secret Service officials, this tracking includes the Field Officer Training and the on-the-job training programs for Uniformed Division officers. In addition, the Secret Service reports to have created 18 checklists that bundle, categorize, and outline the types of training required for Uniformed Division officers. Secret Service officials also report to have created a draft policy that documents the process for collecting complete Uniformed Division officer training data and establishes the types of information that should be collected. However, we have not yet observed evidence of the noted actions or received the draft policy for review. Absent a finalized policy fulfills our recommendation and evidence to confirm the stated actions have been taken, this recommendation remains open. We will continue to monitor the Secret Service's progress in implementing this recommendation.

Full Report

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