In September and October, the Secret Service became embroiled in a number of controversies. On September 20, a fence-jumper who careened into the White House fence and ran as far as the East Room before he was taken down. Days later, an investigative report revealed that the presidential protection service missed the fact that President Barack Obama once got into an elevator with a man armed with a gun.
These security lapses prompted an investigation into the Secret Service and the resignation of its director, Julia Pierson.
On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security released the findings of an investigation into the group tasked with keeping the most prominent figures in the United States secure. The study found that the biggest culprit responsible for the highest profile breach of White House security in decades was… the fence.
“As the Executive Branch, Congress, and the Service itself have all recognized, the fence must be addressed immediately,” the executive summary of the DHS report read. “A better fence can provide time, and time is crucial to the protective mission.”
“Every additional second of response time provided by a fence that is more difficult to climb makes a material difference in ensuring the President’s safety and protecting the symbol that is the White House,” it continued. “Additionally, the ease with which ‘pranksters’ and the mentally ill can climb the current fence puts Secret Service personnel in a precarious position: When someone jumps the fence, they must decide, in a split-second, whether to use lethal force on a person who may not actually pose a viable threat to the President or the White House.”
The report did not provide recommendations as to precisely what the new fence should look like, but it did note that it should be “taller” by four to five feet and should have no horizontal bars that facilitate easier climbing. The top of the fence may also have an outward curvature to prevent scaling should a fence climber with impressive parkour skills attempt to infiltrate the People’s House.
The report also recommended a number of internal reforms to which the Secret Service should also commit. Most critically, the agency must submit to new leadership, and that new director should come from outside the Service. “The new leader will also need to reform the Secret Service’s administrative capabilities,” the report advised. “Finally, the next director will need to help strengthen a culture of accountability.”
Humor aside, this report is a welcome development. It has been an open secret in Washington for some time that the Secret Service was in dire need of reform. Perhaps autumn’s security lapses will finally catalyze a much-needed overhaul.