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Acting Director Of Secret Service Testifies On Capitol Hill

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The White House fence jumping incident happened in September, but it is still causing ripples in Washington. Today, the acting director of the Secret Service, Joseph Clancy, appeared before lawmakers to review what he called an inexcusable incident. He said it and other episodes have taken their toll on the Service's morale and security with potentially dire consequences. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Joseph Clancy appeared composed and lawmakers - for the most part - did not grill the former head of President Obama's security detail, who returned from the private sector to temporarily lead the beleaguered agency. Clancy made no excuses for the Service's performance on September 19, when Army veteran Omar Gonzalez made it well into the building after climbing over the White House fence.

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JOSEPH CLANCY: Although I firmly believe the Secret Service is better than this incident, I openly acknowledge that a failure of this magnitude, especially in light of other recent incidents, requires immediate action and longer term reform.

NAYLOR: Clancy said he's ordered a top to bottom review of the agency and taken steps to improve training and procedures. He's also met with officers and gone to morning roll call in an effort to improve morale. He said agents and officers have gone outside the agency with their complaints because they didn't trust their supervisors. He told Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott the Service is stretched thin, which makes training difficult.

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CLANCY: One of the things we've done to alleviate that, and in the short-term, is we've brought agents in from the field to take some of these positions that uniformed division has at the White House complex, so that we can get people out to training.

CONGRESSMAN BOBBY SCOTT: What happens when people are not properly trained?

CLANCY: When we're not properly trained, sir, we fail.

NAYLOR: One failure in particular troubled Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz. In the hours after Gonzalez was apprehended, a Secret Service spokesman said Gonzalez was not armed. It turned out he had a knife. The spokesman also said Gonzales was caught just inside the door when actually he made it all the way into the East Room.

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CONGRESSMAN JASON CHAFFETZ: As a member of Congress, as a United States citizen, the Secret Service misled us on purpose.

NAYLOR: Clancy conceded the Service failed to properly communicate, but that the misstatements were unintentional. In a lighter moment, Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen asked Clancy if it would enhance security at the White House to build a moat around it.

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CLANCY: Maybe a higher fence, sir, or maybe some other design...

CONGRESSMAN STEVE COHEN: 'Cause this guy - this guy got further in the White House than some of my Republican colleagues have ever gotten.

CLANCY: Yes, sir. Yes, sir, but you're right, sir. A higher fence would certainly help us and we're looking for ways and options. In fact, we hope within the next few months to have some renderings - some drawings - of some options for people to look at.

NAYLOR: Clancy said the Secret Service is working with other government agencies, so that if they do raise the fence, it would maintain its historic design. Another full-scale review of the Service is due next month. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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