Ousted Secret Service No. 2 to mystery Homeland Security job

AP News
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Posted: Feb 11, 2015 4:16 PM
Ousted Secret Service No. 2 to mystery Homeland Security job

WASHINGTON (AP) — What new job in the Homeland Security Department is the ousted No. 2 official at the Secret Service doing? Nobody's saying.

Alvin "A.T." Smith, who ran day-to-day operations at the Secret Service during its most embarrassing scandals, resigned under pressure as deputy director earlier this week. In what appears to be a highly unorthodox employment shuffle, Smith — who earned as much as $183,000 a year — was permitted to take an unspecified job inside the highly regarded Homeland Security Investigations unit in U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Both agencies are part of the Homeland Security Department.

But no one will disclose Smith's new job title, his responsibilities or how much public salary he's earning. It's a mystery whether Smith is investigating cases, shuffling paperwork behind a desk or supervising agents.

Smith was among the last senior Secret Service official left unscathed after a shakeup that started with the forced resignation of then-Director Julia Pierson. Four other senior leaders, including the man in charge of protection operations, were ousted last month.

Amid the upheaval, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and others have criticized Smith, saying he was at the center of bad decisions made in a sequence of Secret Service scandals.

But until Monday, when the Secret Service announced his departure in a three-paragraph statement, Smith's job seemed safe.

The Homeland Security Department won't provide details about his new job. Smith spent 29 years with the Secret Service, including a stint as the head of the agency's investigations division and is nearing retirement. Federal law enforcement officers are forced off the job at 57.

Smith did not respond to messages from The Associated Press emailed to him and left with the public affairs office of his new agency.

A senior executive with the government, Smith could have been fired for misconduct or poor performance. Unlike lower level government employees, very few rules protect a high-level job, said Carol Bonosaro of the nonprofit Senior Executives Association, a professional group that advocates for top-level government workers.

Secret Service Acting Director Joseph Clancy could have transferred Smith within the agency or fired him outright, but Clancy wouldn't have authority to transfer him to another agency within the Homeland Security Department, Bonosaro said. The transfer would have involved approval from top officials within the department, run by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Johnson last year pledged that "ethics in government, setting the example and remaining above reproach are essential elements of good leadership."

Johnson has not commented on Smith's departure.

The timing of Smith's departure was curious. He was expected to testify Thursday, alongside Clancy, during a congressional hearing of the House Oversight Committee.

Smith and Clancy now aren't testifying, although Clancy is expected to appear at a hearing later. Chaffetz and the committee's top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said Monday they commended the Secret Service for its recent job changes, including transferring Smith.

The committee is expected to hear from four former officials who concluded that poor training and management contributed to last year's security missteps, including an incident in which a Texas man armed with a knife scaled a White House fence and ran deep into the executive mansion before being caught.

Smith was in charge of day-to-day operations at the time, and during an earlier instance when President Barack Obama was allowed to ride in an elevator with an armed security contractor who had not been properly vetted by the agency. He was new to the job as deputy director when a group of agents were caught up in a prostitution scandal in advance of Obama's arrival at a South American summit in April 2012.

Smith isn't the first embattled Homeland Security Department official to quietly transfer amid concerns about his performance. In December 2013, then-acting Inspector General Charles Edwards took another job in the department days before he was scheduled to testify before a Senate subcommittee investigating allegations of wrongdoing within his office.

About five months later, Johnson suspended Edwards within hours of the publication of that subcommittee's report that concluded that Edwards was too cozy with senior department officials. Edwards, who was also a senior executive in the department, remains on paid leave.

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Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap