Today, the Boston Globe broke a story based on leaked internal congressional reports which stated that the U.S. Secret Service is overstretched and called into question its ability to carry out its missions. According to the report, the Secret Service has suffered severe budget cuts and is having to deal with a 400% rise in threats against president Obama. The documents leaked to the Globe report that:
The report, issued in August by the Congressional Research Service, claimed that if “an evaluation of the service’s two missions” were to be done at this time, there’s a good possibility that “it might be determined that it is ineffective…to conduct its protection mission and investigate financial crimes.”
The Secret Service has issued a blanket denial of any decline in their capabilities, but this is to be expected as any public display of weakness by the Secret Service could serve as a green light for some group or another to attempt an assassination of the President.
The problem the Secret Service faces is that since it was assigned the task of guarding the President in 1901, it has essentially been two agencies under one roof. The task of protecting the President and other important leaders is a task which requires a completely different type of training, different equipment, different organization, different expertise, and overall a completely different mindset than law enforcement operations against counterfeiting and financial crimes. Simply put, the two disciplines have nothing in common whatsoever.
The fact that the Secret Service has continued to perform both roles for the past 108 years is a testament to the sometimes glacial pace of government reform. The Secret Service was founded in 1865 to investigate counterfeiting crimes. As there were few federal law enforcement agencies at that time of President McKinley’s assassination, the Secret Service was tasked with protecting the President because there was no one else to do the job.
Now, we have a multitude of federal law enforcement agencies, many of which have mission and focus problems (FBI) or existential crises (BATF). The Secret Service is not alone in having too many missions under one roof.
The Globe report quotes an anonymous congressional source in saying that there is talk on Capitol Hill of splitting the Secret Service in two, with one half under the Treasury Department for investigating counterfeiting crimes and the other half under the Department of Homeland Security and charged with VIP protection. Such a division would be similar to the division that the Immigration and Naturalization Service went through in 2003 when the agency was split into a paperwork branch and an enforcement branch.
Creating two specialized agencies that can then pursue their missions independently of each other would be far more efficient. It is high time that the United States government end this inefficient historical anachronism in the organization of the U.S. Secret Service.