Time To Rely On Character, Not Guidelines

The Secret Service’s response to its embarrassing Colombian prostitute scandal — like the GSA response to its infuriating Las Vegas spend-a-thon — says a lot about the bureaucratic mindset.

In an effort to prevent agents from engaging in future drunken romps with hookers, the Secret Service has tightened guidelines.  Agents working overseas now are “banned from drinking on duty, visiting ‘disreputable establishments’ and bringing foreigners into hotel rooms.”  These are viewed as “common-sense enhancements” of existing rules, and will be accompanied by more “ethics sessions” for staff.  In short, the Secret Service, like the GSA before it, is relying on more regulation and more bureaucracy to solve its problem.

Does anyone really think, however, that the wording of regulations is what caused this scandal?  Does the Secret Service really believe that the agents who got drunk in a strip club and took Colombian streetwalkers back to their hotel rooms consulted the employee guidelines before they guzzled their first shot of vodka?

The problem is not with regulations, but with people.  If the Secret Service has hired agents who thought their behavior in Colombia was acceptable, then the problem runs a lot deeper than tweaking the terms of Regulation 12.3(b)(iii).  The processes that led to the hiring of the agents failed, and the training that helped to shape their behavior also failed.  The Secret Service needs to take a comprehensive look at how it selects and schools the people who protect our President.  It needs to figure out how to identify, hire, and promote individuals with qualities like responsibility, dedication, and judgment — because the agents involved in the Colombia scandal sorely lacked those crucial qualities.

It’s time our government understood that we must put our faith in people, not regulations.  You can’t regulate reckless people into responsible people.

Not-So-Secret

The embarrassing scandal involving U.S. Secret Service agents and Colombian prostitutes should make everyone question the quality, training, and capabilities of the people who hold some of the most important jobs in the federal government.

For those who missed it, 11 Secret Service agents were put on leave pending an investigation of their behavior in Colombia.  They were there to help prepare for President Obama’s arrival for the Summit of the Americas.  Amazingly, the agents took advantage of Colombia’s laws, which permit legal prostitution in certain areas, and enjoyed trysts with some of the ladies of the night.  Their risky behavior blew up when one agent refused to pay his prostitute, a police report was filed, and the assignations were uncovered.  Apparently, the hooker hook-ups are now the talk of the summit meeting.

None of the agents was involved in actually guarding the President, and the Secret Service says the President’s security was not compromised.  But how can we be sure?  If agents who are responsible for planning presidential security don’t even recognize the obvious risks involved in consorting with prostitutes in a foreign country, are they really qualified to be handling that crucially important job?  And how do we know that this appalling lapse in judgment — one that apparently included almost a dozen agents — hasn’t happened before?

This incident is shocking and deeply concerning.  Regardless of our political inclinations, we can all agree that nothing is more important than providing the best possible security for our President, who is an obvious target in a world filled with enemies.   This scandal suggests that we may need to take a very careful look at the culture and personnel of the Secret Service, to make sure that they understand just how crucial their job is — and how the proper performance of that job requires that they keep their pants zipped and resist the temptation of sex workers, booze, drugs, and other vices that might impair their judgment.