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Secret Service Chief: Snooping on GOP Chairman Was 'Unacceptable'

WASHINGTON – The director of the U.S. Secret Service reiterated his apologies to a Republican congressman who was the victim of an illicit database search by agency officials searching for information to embarrass him.

Joseph Clancy acknowledged during a joint hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management and the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency that officials delved into the background of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a vocal critic.

The unauthorized snooping found that Chaffetz’s application for a position within the Secret Service had been rejected. That information was leaked to news services. A report by the Office of the Inspector General found 60 instances of unauthorized access to the database by 45 Secret Service employees that violated the Privacy Act as well as internal and Department of Homeland Security policies. The report also noted that 18 senior Secret Service executives failed to stop the unauthorized access or inform Director Clancy about the unauthorized accesses.

“The behavior these employees exhibited is unacceptable,” Clancy told lawmakers. “I am angered by the underlying actions reflected in the OIG’s findings and am committed to ensuring that all employees are held to the highest standards of professional conduct, whether on or off duty. Those we protect and the public we serve expect us to live by our oaths and the values we have established as an agency, and we should demand nothing less from each other.”

Agents involved in the incident were suspended for three to five days, according to their involvement, Clancy said. Supervisors have not yet faced any discipline but they are expected to receive punishment ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal.

Some panel members didn’t believe the punishment was sufficiently severe. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) protested that “the most we can hope for the most disciplinary, the toughest disciplinary action right now is not a loss or revocation of your security clearance, is not a loss of your employment — it’s 12 days’ suspension.”

Clancy said the agency is “better than the actions illustrated in this report” and that individuals involved will be held accountable for their actions.

“We have made necessary changes to technology in order to limit the potential for future misconduct, and are implementing enhanced training,” Clancy said. “I will continue to review policies, practices, and training to address employee misconduct and demand the highest level of integrity of all our employees.”

Clancy said he wanted to “publicly renew my apology for this breach of trust and affirm my commitment to restoring it.”

“I was angered by the willful disregard of these policies, and I’m determined to ensure all employees are held to the highest standard of professional conduct,” he said.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee, characterized the Inspector General’s findings as “deeply disturbing” and said they “cannot be swept under the rug.”

“The IG did not question those involved if this was the only time they have inappropriately used the database,” Lankford said. “In the Internet age, everyone is concerned about the possibility that personal information could be stolen or misused. Our elite law enforcement agencies are not above the law and those responsible must face appropriate consequences.”

Clancy assumed control of the troubled federal agency on Oct. 1, 2014, in the wake of a series of embarrassing incidents. On Sept. 19, 2013, an individual carrying a half-inch serrated knife leapt over the White House fence, onto the North Lawn and ultimately into the building itself.

That was not a singular incident. In 2011, a man fired a high-powered rifle at the White House while one of President Obama’s daughters was in the residence. The Secret Service proved unable to confirm that shots had been fired at the White House until a housekeeper found broken glass four days later.

Also in September 2013 an armed security contractor entered an elevator with the president in violation of protocol. And more recently a drone crashed into a tree on the White House lawn.

Clancy assured lawmakers that changes are underway and that the Secret Service “will emerge as a stronger agency.”

“I am proud to say that we have significantly altered the way the Secret Service is structured and managed since my return to the agency,” he said. “We have also made strides in hiring new members of our workforce and in expanding training opportunities for current members. I am also realistic in knowing that the changes we are making will take time to realize their full impact, particularly as they relate to staffing levels, and that we must continue to communicate these changes to our workforce.”

Clancy said he recognized early in his tenure that many of the most serious problems facing the Secret Service could be traced back to inadequate staffing levels.

“Achieving appropriate staffing levels will allow the workforce to undertake a level of training commensurate with the mission and help to address the resultant effect on morale,” he said. “Once underway, the process is, to some extent, self-repairing in that as morale improves, attrition rates will fall and staffing levels will continue to increase toward desired levels.”

Clancy said the Secret Service is “an agency in the midst of reform.”

“I wish that people could walk in my shoes for a day and see what I see – a workforce with an uncompromising sense of duty and commitment to its integrated mission,” he said.