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October 1 2014

What, if Anything, Do the Words “I take Full Responsibility” Mean in Contemporary Washington?

Charlotte Hays

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson yesterday testified before Congress that she “takes full responsibility” for the epic Secret Service screw-ups that have jeopardized the lives of the president and his family.

Sure. Pierson took full responsibility for the Secret Service’s failures in the same way that Hillary Clinton took responsibility for Benghazi before blaming aides: rhetorically. TFR becomes CYO. Pierson blamed budget constraints rather than underlings, though the Secret Service budget of $1.7 billion has, according to the Wall Street Journal, more than doubled in real terms since 1998.

TFR in contemporary Washington means never having to resign in disgrace. 

Pierson joined the Secret Service in 1984 and became director in March of last year. She should have had the expertise to know that things were seriously amiss.

Whatever else is wrong (and the Secret Service originally tried to blame the White House fence for Omar Gonzalez’s having gotten deep into the executive mansion), the Secret Service didn’t do its job and subsequently lied about how far into the White House Gonzalez had gone. If the Secret Service had done its job, Mr. Gonzalez would—alas—be dead.

The Wall Street Journal contrasts the Gonzalez fiasco with a previous incident:

On a July night in 1976 a Washington taxi driver named Chester Plummer became the first person killed on the White House grounds. Wielding a length of pipe, Plummer refused to surrender after scaling the fence and was shot in the chest by a Secret Service officer on the north lawn. "That's what guns are for," as an old Gerald Ford hand reminded us the other day. …

The latest episode marks a new nadir in the decline of government, and the start of rebuilding professionalism is accountability. That should include firing Ms. Pierson and anyone else who lies to the public. The Secret Service also ought to respond to White House invaders with lethal force. The next Omar Gonzales or Chester Plummer may be a terrorist strapped to a bomb.

I have been waiting for a president who is more simpatico to be in the White House so that I can make a point: we have too much security and too many people are surrounded by security. But what we have seen recently from the Secret Service is not too much security. It is lax security and that has the potential for tragedy. The White House doesn’t need a higher fence or new barriers keeping the public farther away or even more money. It needs a Secret Service capable of doing its job.

It has been suggested that moving the Secret Service from the Department of the Treasure to the Department of Homeland Security was a mistake. That is among the questions that should be discussed now—immediately after Ms. Pierson announces that she would like to spend more time with her family.

Peggy Noonan observes that this is no longer the selfless institution portrayed in Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire and asks probing questions, including one about the effect of the Secret Service’s having been absorbed by DHS.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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