DHS’s Johnson praises Secret Service even as IG reopens investigation

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson doesn’t want to talk about fence jumpings or the latest inspector general report.

It’s bad for his workforce and it’s already dwindling morale, he told reporters on Monday.

But he does want to talk about the successful, six-day security operation his department —- including the Secret Service and other component agencies — led when the pope and United Nations General Assembly visited the United States last week.

“The nature of our business is such that no news is good news,” Johnson said during a press conference Oct. 5 in  Washington. “It’s up to people like me and our component heads to not lose sight of the good news even though the press doesn’t write about it that often. So I want our workforce … to know that we recognize and appreciate the hard work and the precision that went into this huge, monumental and probably unprecedented effort, and that we appreciate it.”

Johnson’s message comes at a time when employee engagement at DHS dropped for the fifth year in a row — and the same day his department’s Inspector General announced it would reopen its investigation into misconduct at the Secret Service.

The IG said some Secret Service agents violated the Privacy Act when they used internal databases to look up an old and unsuccessful job application for House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

When I first heard of the allegations, I was very upset and directed the IG to investigate, and called Chairman Chaffetz based upon what I knew to apologize,” Johnson said. “I know Director [Joseph] Clancy has done that as well. I did that in April and I did that again last week.”

Johnson said the IG will likely release an addendum to the Sept. 25 report.

“I will look forward to reading that,” he said of the addendum. “In terms of any follow-on actions that will occur, that judgment will be made in the near future.”

The department’s IG will add to its original report because Clancy said he has a different recollection of the events he first told the OIG on July 17.

On Monday, Clancy said he was first told on April 2 that Secret Service agents improperly accessed agency databases. But in his interview with the IG, Clancy said he didn’t know what was going on until April 1 and heard unconfirmed rumors as early as March 25.

“I know that I’ve gone back on when I thought I heard a rumor about the chairman applying for a job,” Clancy said. “I was going off memory when I said April 1. You have to consider I was interviewed four months after these events took place. My memory was incorrect. I thought April 1. When the report came, I was advised it was actually mentioned March 25. I made a couple quick calls to confirm that and I immediately called the OIG to correct the record.” 

Johnson said Clancy has made some positive changes to the Secret Service when he assumed the role of acting director nearly one year ago.

“I know Director Clancy has taken to implement the recommendations of the independent panel that were made last December,” Johnson said. “I know he has made some hard personnel choices. He has brought in outside COO, for example, George Mulligan. He is doing a lot to instill accountability, provide more time for training and recruitment, and he’s doing a lot of things as part of my broader Unity of Effort initiative.”

As part of that effort, Johnson acknowledged he, Clancy and component leaders will need to make significant changes to employee morale, adding it “takes time to turn a large ship in a different direction.”

Employee engagement scores in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey dropped to 53 percent in 2015, the lowest all of large agencies.

“The public does not know about every single time a threat directed at a protectee is identified, interrupted or arrested,” Johnson said. “The public does not know that. But it occurs on a regular, if not daily basis. A lot of these episodes kind of exist in an echo chamber because the press reports them, and the workforce sees that as well.”

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