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Secret Service in disarray

The incident in which two Secret Service agents who crashed their car into a police barrier outside the White House after a drunken night on the town has raised new questions about whether last year's shake-up at the agency went far enough toward changing its evident frat boy culture. If the troubled service can't get its act together to hold misbehaving officers accountable this time, Congress needs to step in and determine whether newly appointed agency head Joseph P. Clancy is really up to the job of turning the agency around despite President Barack Obama's insistence he still supports the director.

The incident occurred March 4, when two high-ranking Secret Service officers drove through a security barricade set up by police near the southeast entrance to the White House onto an active crime scene where authorities were investigating a bomb threat. One of the officers, George Ogilvie, was a top supervisor in the agency's Washington field office; the other, Mark Connolly, was second-in-command of President Obama's personal security detail. Both men were returning from a party at a downtown bar where they had been drinking to celebrate a colleague.

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According to reports, the men were behaving erratically when confronted by other agents on the scene, who suspected they were intoxicated. Those agents wanted to arrest both men for drunk driving and interfering with a crime scene investigation, but a supervisor let them go after they showed their agency credentials.

This isn't the first time the Secret Service has had to deal with an embarrassing episode involving agents misbehaving or drunk on the job. In 2012 a dozen Secret Service officers were dismissed after reports surfaced they had brought prostitutes and booze to their hotel rooms in advance of a summit meeting attended by President Obama in Cartagena, Columbia, and last year two more agents were sent home during a presidential trip to Europe after one of them was found passed out drunk in a hallway. In September, a Texas man managed to scale the White House fence and make it all the way inside the building before being tackled by agents.

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That latter incident brought about the departure of former Secret Service Director Julia A. Pierson, a long-serving officer at the agency, who was forced to resign under pressure by congressional critics claiming the agency was in such disarray that it could no longer fulfill its mandate. Mr. Clancy, a 27-year agency veteran, replaced four top Secret Service managers shortly after being appointed the new director, but now he too may be forced to step aside amid complaints the service needs an outsider to thoroughly clean house.

The House committee that oversees the agency is particularly incensed by the supervisor in charge on the night of the most recent incident, who let the agents leave without giving them a sobriety test as he should have under the "zero-tolerance" policy for drunkenness adopted by agency after previous cases of agents drinking on the job. After the incident was reported, Mr. Clancy put the agents involved in "non-supervisory, non-operational" jobs rather than applying the stricter punishment of "administrative leave" or forcing their retirement.

The comparatively lenient treatment meted out in this case smacked of an institutional culture that holds high ranking-agents to a different standard than everyone else — an attitude that, if allowed to flourish, no doubt has contributes to a sense of entitlement at the agency that over time has led to the very sorts of problems its leaders are now trying to correct. Mr. Clancy needs to come out with a forthright explanation of why he's treating these agents as if they weren't bound by the same laws as everyone else.

The Secret Service traditionally has prided itself on the willingness its agents to take a bullet themselves rather than allow harm to come to those they protect. But it's becoming harder and harder to take such assurances seriously when the agency keeps shooting itself in the foot.

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