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Feb 18, 2:25 PM EST

Obama picks Secret Service Acting Director Joe Clancy to fill position permanently


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday chose the former Secret Service special agent he installed temporarily in the wake of security breaches to become the agency's next director, brushing aside an independent panel's conclusion that the job should go to an outsider.

Joseph Clancy will fill the position after four months as acting director. Clancy is a 27-year veteran of the agency and was previously the head of the service's presidential protective division. He was hurriedly appointed on an interim basis last year after then-Director Julia Pierson was forced out.

A panel responsible for reviewing the Secret Service and making recommendations for improvements had concluded earlier this year that the agency was too "insular" and "starving for leadership," recommending the hiring of an outsider as the next director.

"The next director will have to make difficult choices, identifying clear priorities for the organization and holding management accountable for any failure to achieve those priorities," the group wrote after interviewing 50 Secret Service employees. "Only a director from outside the (Secret) Service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require."

On Sept. 19, a fence-jumper carrying a knife was able to run deep into the executive mansion, prompting the agency to put a second layer of fencing around the presidential complex. Obama initially told aides he was satisfied with the changes, but then wanted new leadership after he learned that he rode an elevator with a security contractor that the Secret Service didn't know was armed.

Four of the agency's highest-ranking officials were reassigned recently in response to a series of embarrassing problems inside the Secret Service.

Earlier this month, the agency's No. 2, Alvin "A.T." Smith was also ousted and was transferred to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Both agencies are part of the Homeland Security Department. ICE Director Sarah Saldana told her staff that Smith would be a "senior adviser" for cybercrime.

The panel that recommended an outside hire included former Obama administration Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli; former Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip, who served during Bush's term; Danielle Gray, a former assistant to Obama; and Joe Hagin, deputy chief of staff for operations during the Bush administration.

In a statement released by the White House, Perrelli called Clancy "a dedicated public servant who has made important changes since he began the job and has started the process of reforming the (Secret) Service."

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he was disappointed that Obama decided not to follow the panel's recommendations.

"The panel made it crystal clear that only a director from outside the agency would meet the needs of the agency today - someone with a fresh perspective, free from allegiances and without ties to what has consistently been described as a `good old boys network,'" Chaffetz said in a statement.

Chaffetz spoke briefly to Clancy after his appointment and congratulated him.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, welcomed Clancy's appointment.

"Joe Clancy has taken strong action over the past several months to begin righting the ship at the Secret Service, he has been extremely responsive to Congress, and his decisive leadership has already resulted in major changes," Cummings said in a statement.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Clancy was chosen in part because Clancy, as acting chief in the last few month, "has demonstrated that he was willing to conduct a candid, clear-eyed assessment of the shortcomings of that agency."

"His willingness to use his credibility within the agency to implement these reforms in some ways is the best of both worlds," Earnest said.

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