RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We turn now to all the security lapses within the Secret Service. Turns out low morale could be partly to blame. The agency with the responsibility for protecting the president, vice president and their families rates in the bottom third in job satisfaction rankings with in the federal government. And as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the root of that discontent could be bureaucratic.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The Secret Service traces its heritage back to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It was created in 1865 to fight counterfeiters and didn't get into the business of protecting presidents until 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley. After the attacks on 9/11 some 100 years later, the Service was transferred from Treasury to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. It became one of 22 agencies, encompassing everything from the Coast Guard to Disaster Recovery, that were thrown together in response to the terrorist strike. Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent, says the Services' morale problems can be traced back to that day.
JONATHAN WACKROW: In the 13 years that I was with the Secret Service, there has been a progressive down-slide of morale. As Secret Service has integrated further into the DHS culture, you have seen a correlation in the decline of morale.
NAYLOR: Now, moving an agency from one part of the governmental organizational chart to another might not seem like such a big deal, but the Service was an elite unit when it was part of the relatively small Treasury Department. And when it became part of the sprawling bureaucracy that is Homeland Security, the Secret Service found itself competing with a lot of other folks, says Wackrow.
WACKROW: We have to fight internally for money and resources against issues of immigration, issues that arise with the Coast Guard and other Homeland Security issues. So for us to try to have a voice in that sea of confusion, sometimes it's very difficult for our managers.
NAYLOR: Like other federal agencies, the department lost part of its funding due to the sequester of the operating budget last year. Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano vowed those cuts would not be taken from the protective side of the Services' budget. In fact Congress gave the Service more money than it asked for last year because lawmakers felt the Obama administration underfunded the agency. But former Assistant Secret Service Director Mickey Nelson agrees there has been a lot more scrambling for resources since the service became part of Homeland Security.
MICKEY NELSON: The Secret Service mission pretty much stayed the same unlike some of the other agencies that were brought over. Now, what has happened over the period of time of course, you've got quite a few components within DHS fighting for what seems to be an increasingly smaller budget.
NAYLOR: It's unclear how the budget has affected staffing levels. At her hearing last week, former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said the service was 550 employees below what it should be. Republicans are skeptical that the agency is shorthanded. It's one of the issues members of Congress want an independent panel that is viewing recent security lapses at the White House to look into. Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings says the agency may be stretched too thin.
REPRESENTATIVE ELIJAH CUMMINGS: They need to look at training, protocol and look at the leadership structure. Whether the Secret Service should continue to be under Homeland Security - this is a very critical moment for the Secret Service.
NAYLOR: And in a sentiment shared by many in Washington, Cummings says whomever the president chooses to lead the Service is going to have to be prepared to make changes from top to bottom. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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