WASHINGTON – A federal watchdog plans to send the U.S. Secret Service a formal warning Thursday about the security risks of overworking its employees – after discovering two Secret Service officers asleep at their posts, according to three government officials familiar with the findings.
The inspector general who oversees the Secret Service is expected to issue a management alert about the incident this week, as early as this afternoon. That formal designation indicates investigators have found a problem so urgent or sweeping that it requires swift attention from senior management.
The management alert stems from a routine check this August of alarms and communication equipment at facilities protected by the Secret Service, the three officials said. In the wake of radio failures when a fence-jumper got inside the White House in September 2014, auditors with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General rode around to various sites with Secret Service staff. They found one officer at an embassy post and another stationed at the White House complex who appeared to be asleep while on duty.
But Secret Service leaders are strenuously objecting to Inspector General John Roth’s conclusions that these incidents show a broader problem in the agency’s work schedules. They say the evidence suggests that an overtaxing work schedule was not the reason for the two employees’ lack of alertness. In one case, the officer told investigators that cold medicine he took that day had made him drowsy, two government officials said. The other officer ostensibly had a very full work schedule on paper, but a large chunk of that was sitting and sleeping while flying back in a military transport plane from President Obama’s trip to Kenya.
Overscheduling has plagued the Secret Service in the recent past, especially the Secret Service’s Uniform Division officers, who provide security at the White House and the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory. In the wake of the embarrassing fence-jumper incident, many officers complained bitterly about how often they are forced to work on their days off due to staffing shortages. An administration-appointed panel recommended increasing the Service’s staff by 85 agents and 200 officers to properly handle its workload and security postings.
New Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy has pledged that improving staffing, with Congress’s help, was his first priority in taking the job permanently in February.
Roth’s last management alert to the Service was sent in April and concerned failing security systems at the residences of former presidents, who are also protected by the Secret Service.
“These notifications are used by the OIG to inform senior DHS managers of conditions which pose an immediate and serious threat of waste, fraud and abuse in agency programs,” the inspector general’s website reads. “These alerts, usually triggered by findings made in the course of our audit, inspections and investigative work, may also contain recommendations to correct the identified concerns.”