Answering pointed questions about new claims of misconduct by his agents, Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy says he had a "good stern talk" with his staff about why he wasn't told sooner about an incident in which two senior agents who were apparently drunk drove a government vehicle through an area at the White House complex where their colleagues were investigating a suspicious package.
The agents in question were not given field sobriety tests, Clancy told a House panel. He later added that as the investigation continues, the agents have been placed in non-supervisory positions. The recent scandal erupted after an anonymous email claimed that two agents drove slowly into an orange traffic barrel after they attended a reception.
The culture of the Secret Service, something that's been blamed for other recent incidents, also came up in the budget hearing held by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Discussing the various ways agents cope with the stresses of their work, Clancy said, "We do have an element that goes to alcohol."
Clancy said that after discussing why he hadn't been told of the reported misconduct, he instructed his staff "to ensure that these events, and any event of misconduct or operational errors have to be relayed up the chain.
He added, "I will say that it's going to take time to change maybe some of this culture. There's no excuse for this information not to come up the chain."
Those remarks didn't keep Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., from demanding a further explanation from Clancy. When the Secret Service director mentioned the ongoing inspector general investigation, Rogers interrupted him to say, "I don't care about the office of the inspector general — God love them and good luck to them."
Pointing a finger at Clancy, Rogers said, "You're in charge. This is an administrative problem you've got, among other things."
Clancy responded, "First of all, you're right, Mr. Chairman."
"There will be accountability," he said, later adding, "This is my first test."
Clancy said he will be comparing the inspector general's report to Secret Service logs and records from that night.
And he said that part of the challenge is establishing a culture of trust at the troubled agency, to encourage people to report problems up the command chain.
"I've got to work to earn that trust, and I'm going to do that through my actions," he said.
"Well, your actions, in my judgment, should be punishment," Rogers replied. "Termination. Firing people who have subordinated their command."
Clancy said that he hasn't spoken with the agent who was in charge of the White House complex that night, out of concern that he might influence or distort the investigation.
Rogers said he is "disappointed" that Clancy had not conducted his own "vigorous tough investigation" into the incident.
"To say you're not investigating because you want the inspector general of the department to investigate is hogwash," Rogers stated. "What do you think?"
Clancy responded by citing a recent case in which a witness told different versions of their account to different agencies, including the Secret Service.
"I'm frustrated," Clancy said, using a word he repeated often during his testimony. "I'm very frustrated that we didn't know about this."