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James G. Huse is a retired Inspector General for Social Security and the retired assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service.

MUSINGS FROM THE MIDLANDS

 

 

Secret Service Scandal is Not Indicative of Agency’s Current Culture

By James G. Huse
ticklethewirecom

I have been somewhat “retired” from this column for many months, but the No. 1 news story in Washington this past week, the Secret Service personnel who broke the code of conduct rules in Cartagena on an advance assignment for President Obama’s trip, has motivated me back to the keyboard.

I have waited a bit for the media hysterics to somewhat abate before making these observations.

Contrary to the hue and cry, this is not the greatest crisis in Secret Service history.

That was, as we all know, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. That was a true crisis. This instant mess is an egregious failure of discipline on the part of the personnel involved. The breach was reported to leadership and instant remediation action ensued.

This is not, by any gauge, proof of a pandemic culture of immorality and irresponsibility in today’s Secret Service, nor is it the first time in Secret Service history that agents and officers have been disciplined for breaking the rules.

As in all organizations there are people who fail to meet or perform to acceptable standards. Dealing with those individuals has been a continuing Secret Service focus through the years.

I know this because it was my job as a Secret Service Assistant Director. In this current matter the Secret Service process of discipline and correction was well underway before it became public knowledge.

When the failure became known to management the situation was immediately addressed and the miscreant agents and officers immediately replaced.

While this event is certainly an embarrassment to the Secret Service it is not -as some strident media experts suggest – a complete condemnation of its leadership, professionalism and public service to the United States. The over-the-top posturing of these so-called experts should raise some questions about the substantiation behind their pronouncements they endlessly tout on the news media. I wonder what their professional experience is and what their qualifications are, to advance these opinions.

I also question why their inside sources remain anonymous? During my years as Inspector General of Social Security Administration a steady stream of provocative allegations about agency leaders were reported to my office from anonymous sources.

Very few proved to have any validity. I am wary of unidentified sources. To me, it’s the old courage of your convictions test. Too much exists as fact today that is never substantiated by good validation and verification before it is proclaimed to our over-connected world.

I know I am very subjective about my views on the Secret Service. I spent the balance of my federal career in it. I served with the finest men and women I know. I also know that the agents, officers, and all the Secret Service staff of today hold to the same commitments and standards that I did in my time.

On this past Wednesday evening, April 18, a wreath was placed at the Law Enforcement Memorial on E Street NW, here in Washington to commemorate the 29 officers and agents who have died in the line of duty since the Secret Service was authorized by President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

The Secret Service has a long and rich history of public service to the United States. It is made up of real people, steadfast men and women who respect these traditions, and serve their country with honor and commitment.

Where there are individuals who fail to keep this compact they are identified, and following due process, are removed. This is the abiding core culture of the Secret Service.

James Huse is currently a Senior Advisor to the Global Public Sector practice for a major consulting firm.


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The White House Incident Needs to Be Kept in Perspective

James G. Huse is a retired assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service and a retired Inspector General for Social Security.

By James G. Huse Jr.

In the wake of the kabuki surrounding the media focus on the bizarre escapades of White House crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi, one fact stands completely indisputable: there is no such thing as perfect security.

The Secret Service knows this from its long history, and from that, has built its protective operations accordingly. All Secret Service protective operations are woven from inter-locking internal controls (some highly classified) that not only reinforce each other, but provide parallel assurance as well.

In the context of this incident, as the Director of the Secret Service Mark Sullivan testified before the Congress, neither the President’s safety or well-being or that of the Prime Minister of India were jeopardized by the attendance of the non-invited Salahis to the state dinner.

Any security system for public dignitaries that depends on the discretionary judgments of humans, has to accept the risk of human error as a variable.

Indeed, in this incident the failure of these controls at a critical checkpoint allowed the Salahis their uninvited access. How that failure transpired is under intense investigation by the Secret Service, and appropriate adjustments and actions will follow as a result.

Nevertheless, what is not clearly reported, is that other concurrent security operations were successfully performed at the state dinner, that assured the safety of the President and his distinguished Head of Government guest.

The strident critics of the Secret Service do not understand this concurrent security dynamic, or do not care to comprehend this reality because it deflates their various theses that this incident is the result of mismanagement or budget stinginess.

The clear understanding that human error can occur drives the development of Secret Service protective operations plans and execution.

In my own personal experience as a special agent, I remember the state arrival ceremonies on the South Grounds of the White House, in 1979 for the Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, that were disrupted by an unruly individual in the press pool who screamed out unflattering epithets at the visiting dignitary during his speech.

Subsequent investigation revealed that the individual had garnered press credentials with a claimed affiliation to a non-existent publication. While the arrival ceremony was marred by this breech of etiquette, neither President Carter or Leader Deng Xiaoping were endangered in any way.

In later years as an Assistant Director, I was the Chief Investigator for the White House Security Review that followed the September 1994 small plane crash on the South Grounds of the White House, and the semi-automatic weapons firing by Francisco Duran at individuals on the North Grounds of the White House in October 1994.

This investigation and the subsequent publication of the White House Security Review in 1995 resulted in substantive recommendations to improve the security of the White House complex, and yet, in neither incident was the security of President Clinton harmed in any way because of existing concurrent security operations and planning.

The Secret Service has a difficult mission and does not seek to avoid or compromise its responsibilities for the safety of its designated protected individuals.

It understands that constant improvement is the guarantor for operational success. The Secret Service accepts that its vital trust to protect the President is not an impossible mission but knows it is a most complex and dynamic one, where the public access to its leaders in a representative democracy is a constant dynamic.


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Current and Ex-Secret Service Agents Violated Trust

By James G.  Huse Jr.
ticklethewire.com

There is significant agitation and unease in the ranks of my brother and sister agents of the Secret Service, both active and retired, with the recent publication of Ronald Kessler’s new book, In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect.

Mr. Kessler’s well-marketed book is a pastiche of titillating anecdotes and facts served up about Secret Service protected dignitaries and operations by loose-tongued former and active agents as well Mr. Kessler’s own research and opinions.

The majority of retired and active service agents are disappointed to say the least by the willingness of those who cooperated with Mr. Kessler’s research, and broke an unwritten compact with Secret Service protected dignitaries, past and present, that warranted their private lives.

Obviously, such a tradition is central to the ability of the Secret Service to have the trust of and the access to those it protects. Without this “understanding” that their privacy is sacrosanct, the protection of these individuals would be incredibly more complicated and remote.

Such close access bespeaks discretion and judgment. The fact this tradition has been damaged by these self-promotional disclosures, angers the majority of agents, past and present, whose silence, in this instance, is their bond.

There are no non-disclosure oaths that Secret Service agents swear to as a condition of their employment other than those associated with national security information.

What has prevailed through history is a code of personal responsibility: The importance of this critical trust and discretion for the success of the protective mission.

That self-discipline has been assaulted by these reckless disclosures. The other perplexing dimension to these disclosures is to what end were they made? Certainly, no honor comes to those who broke faith with this tradition.

No one faults, Mr. Kessler for his enterprise or his right to publish his book, but there is ample disgust and embarrassment for these erstwhile professional comrades who have broken our ranks, and told him private tales for some incomprehensible illusion of celebrity.

This is a sad consequence of life today where any story, no matter how profane or sacred, is brought to light simply for the fleeting and momentary celebrity of the teller-of the tale.

The other flaw in Mr. Kessler’s book is his misunderstanding of the complexity and nature of the Secret Service’s protective mission which lead to his claim that the Secret Service isn’t doing its job.

While some of his facts are true — such as the repotting of the Secret Service from the Treasury Department in
to the new Department of Homeland Security after September 11, 2001, which has complicated its mission performance — his overall conclusions are developed with a core flawed premise.

As every agent learns in their first weeks on the job, there is no such thing as perfect security.

The mission of the Secret Service, in our democracy, is to bring in the security margins for its protected dignitaries, as much as possible, in continuous, dynamic actions influenced by intelligence assessments, finite budget and resource parameters, and the collective experience and wisdom of its operatives.

There is no one standard for protective operations. The art of fulfilling this critical mission is to apply the right mix of these capabilities in an appropriate manner based on a spread of variables.

In reality, the leadership of the Secret Service has always had to balance fulfilling the mission against the free exercise of the functioning of our government and the rights of our citizens.

The truth is, looking around the world at similar agencies with like responsibilities, nobody does it better than the Secret Service.

Finally, there is a sense of sadness that some in our ranks broke faith with our traditions. They were wrong to do that, and should not be counted in our number.


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What It Means to be a True Public Servant

I have struggled with this column the past few months. Part of that comes from the demands of my day job, trying to keep my small company successful in today’s economy.

James Sloan-the Gold Standard for Public Servants
James Sloan-the Gold Standard for Public Servants

But, the balance of my distraction comes from my discomfort in trying to be relevant in the era of Facebook and Twitter and tweeting and blogging.

I think I preferred the less formidable presentation of news by the traditional media that I came to age with. In any case, recent events have jarred me to express my dismay at how attitudes have changed in my lifetime about many things, but, none more so than what it means to be a public servant.

In recent weeks, we have witnessed the quirky behaviors of two Governors, Sarah Palin’s whimsical resignation of her office in Alaska, and Mark Sanford’s explanations for his international leave-of-absence from his duties in South Carolina.

Both luminaries, much in the news, purport to be public servants, a description whose definition, I believe, has drifted considerably from its original historical moorings. My understanding of a public servant is close to that which describes the ancient Roman office of tribune, a person who upholds or defends the rights of others.

I know a real tribune who recently died on June 24 after a long struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). James F. Sloan was a friend; a fellow retired U.S. Secret Service executive and veteran Army officer. He was also in his time the Director of the Department of the Treasury’s FINCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) , and most recently until this past February, the Assistant Commandant of the Coast Guard for Intelligence and Criminal Investigation.

Jim’s whole adult life was a testament to the true definition of public service. Public service, especially in federal law enforcement – is a vocation.

The men and women who devote their lives to this high calling every day, as true tribunes of the people- do so in the face of corrosive self absorption and promotion that all too often defines public service today.

James F. Sloan was the gold standard for duty well-performed, honor in all things, and country above the self which was the officer’s code, he learned at the outset of his federal career, and which he lived his life fulfilling.

When one contrasts his dedication and purposeful life with the shallow traces of what the cult of celebrity serves up today as exemplars of public service, we realize the true loss of this fine man and deeply appreciate those who are like him.

(Jim Huse is the CEO of IntegriGuard, LLC, a program integrity, payment accuracy company in Omaha, NE. You can learn more about him and his company at www.integriguard.org).


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Fed Law Enforcement Better Get Necessary Funding For Its Broad Mission

I have struggled with writing this column lately. Every time I have settled on something I want to say, a national event has dumped some cold water on my tentative muse.

Like most Americans, I find the swirl of daily calamitous economic, political and news in general, depressing and intimidating.

I also believe there is a meaner dimension to the streets brought on by the daily onslaught of bad news we endure. When that anxiety is combined with the seemingly clumsy attempt of government to deal with these things it does not leave one confident, to say the least.

I am deeply concerned about the ability of Federal law enforcement to meet the public’s expectations to reign in the rogue financial shenanigans that brought us to this economic quagmire.

How can we broach universal healthcare when we continually struggle with the resources necessary to reign in the fraud, waste and abuse in our existing social insurance delivery systems, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security Disability Insurance?

The oversight mission over the stimulus funding given to the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board is staggeringly complex and important.

Yet there can be no compromise in our existing efforts to keep us safe from the unabated terrorist threat. To top it off, we have the boil over of drug war violence on the Mexican border that needs immediate int
ervention.

Where are the resources for all of this? There is no finger-snap solution to the fact that Federal law enforcement has significantly too much mission to address.

Add to this conundrum the increasing public violence of the past several weeks with the deaths of local law enforcement officers and you understand that this mission strain is a very serious concern.

The financial downturn with falling tax revenues is directly reducing the capacity of local law enforcement to deal with these strains. What help can they receive from Federal law enforcement whose own resources are committed to other emergencies?

We need to be aware of these demands and strains and understand that we have to push back and demand the appropriate resources to help the over-burdened Federal law enforcement agencies address these problems and get the job done.

All existing missions need to be reassessed, reprioritized, and in some instances set aside.

On April 19, in my native Massachusetts, there is the annual celebration of the original Patriot’s Day (before it was recast by President Bush after 9/11/01) saluting the brave Minutemen who stood, as Emerson said, “on that rude bridge that arched the flood”, in Concord in 1775 and confronted their exigent furies embodied by King George’s soldiers.

Those patriots found their priorities that fateful day by mustering, setting aside their quotidian concerns,
and arguably focusing on what was important.

Our Federal leaders and law enforcement agencies need to borrow from this historical motivation, and do much the same, make the hard choices and get it done.

(Jim Huse is the CEO of IntegriGuard, LLC, a program integrity, payment accuracy company in Omaha, NE. You can learn more about him and his company at www.integriguard.org).


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Reflections On the Inauguration of President Obama

Several thoughts have been running through my mind as I reflect on President Obama’s inauguration. The first observation comes from pride as a retired Secret Service agent – the colossal accomplishment of the venerable agency which allowed the President to participate in panoply of events surrounding his oath on January 20th on the West Capitol steps.

The complex planning and coordination that allows the President’s accessibility to the electorate while protecting his person, is worthy, indeed, of great praise and admiration.

For all of the visible presence of agents and police officers who provided security during all the ceremonial events, there was an unseen legion of operatives conducting complementary, but equally essential security operations for days in advance, in bitter cold weather and in markedly challenging circumstances.

The willful and essential self-effacement of the Secret Service permits no such adulation for these accomplishments. Still, the agency’s great organizational skill and sacrifice deserve a resounding “well done”. It is certainly and richly deserved.

My second observation concerns the phrase in the President’s inaugural address in which he calls us to a “new era of responsibility,” and then goes on to state about government: “The question we ask is not whether the government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

As a retired Inspector General I know that a relatively unsung dimension of federal law enforcement exists to help the President meet this challenge. The Offices of Inspectors General throughout the Executive Branch exist by statute to root out fraud, waste, abuse and inefficiency in government and its programs. These dedicated criminal investigators and auditors have amassed a substantial record of accomplishment in government stewardship the past 30 years since the passage of the Inspector General Act of 1978.

President Obama’s new Chief Performance Officer, Nancy Killefer (and Deputy Director for Management of the Office of Management and Budget) is ex officio the Vice Chairperson of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency ,whose members are the Inspectors General.

Two outstanding examples of public service as an Inspector General are the Hon. Glenn Fine at Justice and the Hon. Earl Devaney at Interior. Both exemplify the integrity and non-partisan conduct of the office through their exemplary work. Ms. Killefer would be well served to heed the counsel of these people as she helps the President achieve his goal to “do our business in the light of day because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

(Jim Huse is the CEO of IntegriGuard, LLC, a program integrity, payment accuracy company in Omaha, NE. You can learn more about him and his company at www.integriguard.org).


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Obama Needs To Fix Shortcomings of Dept. of Homeland Security

In these exciting transition times after the election it is good sport to speculate on what might be coming with the new President’s government. Already there is buzz about another New Deal. That may be a good thing when you consider the problems facing Federal law enforcement. The net result of years of mission creep and unfunded mandates has left its mark on Federal law enforcement. The old complaint about having more mission than people has never been truer.

The creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the wake of 9/11/01 was a shock to the system from which Federal law enforcement has yet to recover. In creating DHS, the Bush Administration combined the failed managements of Treasury’s Customs Service and Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service. Consequently, the DHS succeeded in creating an agency that has yet to find a coherent identity. Another “Fed Frankenstein” is Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The media is full of stories from this DHS quadrant, particularly about the shortcomings of the Air Marshal’s Service and the airport screeners.

Perhaps the Obama Administration “New Deal” might provide some relief here. Its transition teams should make certain no good budget dollars follow bad ones and management fixes internal control weaknesses in these organizations. A top to bottom analysis of DHS should determine a new strategic plan to bind this cabinet department together. Some agency pieces may need to be jettisoned or returned to other Executive Branch departments. The DHS needs to have a common sense organization that benefits the Nation rather than the bureaucratic lash up of today. A litmus test for the transition team is to review the DHS of today against the findings of the 9/11 Commission and determine if there are still homeland security gaps to be filled.

Some effort must be focused on the DHS mission. The schizophrenic Immigration enforcement laws and regulations need to be addressed. These laws need to be free from political manipulation and grounded in fairness and uniformity, particularly when it comes to the protection of the border.

Perhaps the national service idea (besides Armed Forces duty) that President-elect Obama articulated during the campaign as a way for young citizens to earn college tuition credit might include helping fulfill some of the broad mission of DHS. In any case, DHS is definitely a place for a “New Deal.”


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Law Enforcement Issues Missing In Spirited Presidential Race This Time Around

“There may be trouble ahead” the lyric goes in the first line of Irving Berlin’s famous song, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”. That seems apropos when we contemplate the state of Federal law enforcement in this pre-presidential election season. Tellingly absent from the candidates’ daily dialogue in this presidential election is any mention of law enforcement issues. In election times past, the promise of safer streets, crackdowns on drugs and gun trafficking, or what have you, was a staple of campaign rhetoric on the stump.

There is a reason for this, and why there really may be “trouble ahead” for Federal law enforcement. Both candidates understand that the economic crisis facing the country with the ensuing $700 Billion bailout, coupled with the black hole of the Federal deficit, the burgeoning costs of the two foreign wars, and the looming fiscal nightmare of the long range financial health of Medicare and Social Security, doesn’t leave much change in the Federal piggy bank for any bold or sweeping improvements to Federal law enforcement initiatives or to buttress existing programs.

The front page of the Sunday New York Times (October 19, 2008) carried an above-the-fold story, “FBI STRUGGLING TO HANDLE WAVE OF FINANCIAL CASES”, reporting how the FBI has too few financial investigations resources to cover the plethora of criminal fraud matters dropping out of the financial entities involved in the evolving economic crisis. The article reported that the ranks of the FBI’s white collar crimes experts have been winnowed away by the shift of emphasis within the Bureau to counter-terrorism missions. Hopefully, prudent decisions will prevail within FBI Headquarters. We need to keep our eye on the fight against terrorism, but we still need to enforce the integrity of our financial system. Needless to say, while there have been some widely publicized law enforcement anti-terrorism prosecutorial miscues since September 11, 2001, on balance, we have to believe that Federal law enforcement is doing a better job protecting the homeland, as the absence of further attacks will attest.

In any case, huge new law enforcement responsibilities will confront the already over-burdened Federal law enforcement entities with the arrival of the new President’s administration. These challenges will present themselves with no budget dollars to fund their solution. What can we do? We all need to pay attention to what will happen. Through our legislative representatives we will need to reward Federal law enforcement agency heads who jettison out-dated enforcement programs and played-out missions.

These actions will require innovative and vigorous leadership to find these economies-of-scale. Simply put: There needs to be change in the way Federal law enforcement does business. If even some of this can happen maybe some of that “trouble ahead” can be avoided.

(Jim Huse is the CEO of IntegriGuard, LLC, a program integrity, payment accuracy company in Omaha, NE. You can learn more about him and his company at www.integriguard.org).


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