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Media advisory: Experts can discuss resignation of Secret Service director

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

LAWRENCE — As the Secret Service has come under fire for a recent White House security breach and revelation that an armed felon rode in an elevator with President Barack Obama, two University of Kansas experts in the School of Public Affairs and Administration are able to address issues surrounding the agency.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday afternoon, according to national news reports.

Congressional members criticized Pierson during her committee hearing testimony Tuesday that covered security lapses that led to a man's Sept. 19 intrusion into the White House residence. In addition to the recent incidents, the Secret Service has faced a number of other breaches and scandals in recent years, including in 2011 when a series of gunshots was fired at the White House, although the shots weren't detected until days later.

Two professors who study public administration, management and accountability are available to comment on the Secret Service and its response to security threats.

Heather Getha-Taylor, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, can speak about how the recent scandals and other factors have affected the state of the Secret Service. Her broad research interests include human resource management and organizational behavior.

She said for the Secret Service to achieve its goal of a 100 percent security success rate, it requires both individual and organizational excellence. She said the recent scandals point to the need to give attention to broader organizational issues, and that investment in human capital should address supporting structures, policies and resources to help Secret Service officers respond to threats like the 2011 shooting incident. Getha-Taylor also noted in 2013, the Secret Service ranked 226 out of 300 federal agencies in a survey of the "Best Places to Work."

"We expect much from the Secret Service and with good reason: their effective performance saves lives. Yet, without attention to the organizational environment within which these officers work, an exclusive focus on individual actions (or inactions) misses some of the broader potential explanations for these lapses," Getha-Taylor said. "Namely, individual excellence and organizational excellence are intertwined. While a focus on officers’ actions is needed to address gaps in meeting the agency’s goals, the potential implications of a lackluster organizational culture should not be ignored in the quest for improved accountability and performance."

Holly T. Goerdel, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, can speak about federal agencies, including public management and accountability issues. Goerdel most recently studied accountability in wartime contracting among federal government agencies.

Goerdel said the timing of the most recent Secret Service scandal is particularly bad due to the recent scrutiny of so many federal agencies that have experienced performance failures.

"The broader public management of federal agencies is under scrutiny, making it a tough environment to offer explanations for performance and high-profile failures. The pressure is understandably high for cabinet officials and congressional overseers; but the potential problem is that accountability can be reduced to only asking and answering questions about very narrow incidents, rather than more deeply rooted systemic issues," Goerdel said. "Therefore, the hope is that the accountability discourse around these incidents can provide a gateway for such considerations. Otherwise, these become flashes in the political pan that detract from real opportunities for accountability processes to unfold."


Ruth DeWitt, Communications Manager
KU School of Public Affairs and Administration
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