Secret Service Director Testifies: I Take Full Responsibility

Posted: Sep 30, 2014 11:00 AM

Testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday in front of the House Oversight Committee Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said she takes full responsibility for the fence jumping incident that occurred on September 19 when Omar Gonzales ran 70 yards across the White House lawn and made his way deep into the Green Room. 

"It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly. I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again," Pierson said. "The review began with a physical assessment of the site and personnel interviews. All decisions made that evening are being evaluated, including decisions on tactics and use of force, in light of the totality of the circumstances confronting those officers."

Due to the sensitivity of information surrounding the work of the Secret Service, Pierson informed lawmakers she would answer questions as thoroughly as possible, but would provide additional details in a closed door hearing. 

"As I have informed you and your staff, given that much of what we do to protect the President and the White House involves information that is highly sensitive or classified, I will be limited in what I can say in a public hearing. However, I will share as much information as I responsibly can during the open portion of today’s hearing. I am willing to give more complete responses in a closed session after this session is complete," she said. "With respect to the many questions that have been raised and opinions proffered in the wake of the September 19 the incident, I do not want to get ahead of the investigation that is underway."

In the aftermath of the fence jumping incident last week, Secret Service officials said agents showed "tremendous restraint" in addressing the situation as it played out. 

"How could Mr. Gonzalez scale the fence and why didn’t officers immediately apprehend him? How was he able to sprint 70 yards, almost an entire football field, without being intercepted by guards inside the fence line? Why didn’t security dogs stop him in his tracks?" Chairman Darrell Issa asked. "What about the SWAT team? Why was no guard stationed at the front door of the White House? And why was the door left unlocked?"

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz echoed Issa's sentiments.

"Tremendous restraint sends a mixed message...the message should be overwhelming force," Chaffetz said. 

During her opening statement, Pierson committed to doing the following: 

I am committed to the following:

1. A complete and thorough investigation of the facts of this incident , to include necessary personnel actions;
2. A complete and thorough review of all policies, procedures and protocols in place
that govern the security of the White House Complex and our response to this
incident; and
3. A coordinated, informed effort to make any and all adjustments necessary to properly ensure the safety and security of the President and First Family and those who work and visit the White House.

"Whether deficient procedures, insufficient training, personnel shortages, or low morale contributed to the incident, this can never happen again," Issa said. 

In the past four years, the Secret Service has experienced a series of breakdowns. The most recent fence-jumping incident is hardly a first.