A Government Agency Tries to Succeed by Failing

The Secret Service has a difficult and important job but, like other government agencies, it appears to use failure as an excuse to grow its powers. The Secret Service has recently suggested screening tourists in a facility blocks away from the White House to detect threats and enlarge the buffer zone around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The agency floated this proposal immediately after an event of breathtaking incompetence.  

On Monday a man scaled the fence at the White House and reached the front door. This incident was the result of three incredible errors. First, there appears to have been no agent in place who could have tackled the intruder before he got to the front door. Yet incursions on the grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are frequent, and the Secret Service rightly holds back lethal fire against unarmed intruders, most of whom are mentally ill, and many of whom are not dangerous.

Second, no one had locked the White House doors. This act of security is so elementary that even one with no training would hit upon the course of action immediately. At the White House it should be an automatic protocol upon incursion.

Third, the alleged intruder was stopped last month in the vicinity of the White House with an axe. With a little investigation the Secret Service could then have found that he had previously been “arrested with a mini-arsenal of semiautomatic weapons, a sniper rifle and a map clearly marking the White House’s location.” Why after these incidents was the man not in jail or committed to a mental institution for observation?

In any sensible government, the Director of the Secret Service would offer to resign after a series of errors that makes the Keystone cops look competent.  Instead, the agency has used the incident to suggest more ways of making a symbol of our democracy resemble a fortress. The agency’s proposal about tourists in particular seems quite unconnected to the problem of random intruders.

The Secret Service has a storied history. Sadly, this incident reveals it as just another Washington agency that tries to turn dereliction into an excuse for mission creep and aggrandizement.