New Castle News


May 4, 2012

Our Opinion: Secret Service scandal symbolizes breaches of public trust

NEW CASTLE — There are a couple of pieces of good news regarding the Secret Service sex scandal.

The first is that an investigation has determined the women hired as prostitutes by Secret Service agents in Columbia apparently were just that.

Concerns had been raised that they might be spies for terror groups or drug cartels seeking access for an attack on President Obama during his visit to that country.

Second, Washington has refrained from trying to make this a political issue. At least there is recognition that the safety of the president and other top government officials is a bipartisan concern.

But beyond that, the reckless behavior reported in Columbia is deeply disturbing. And it has gotten the government’s attention. Heads have rolled and others may lose their jobs before it is all over. New rules have been instituted that demand Secret Service agents on assignment avoid drunkenness and debauchery.

It’s not unusual that individuals engaged in high-stress responsibilities would want to blow off some steam when they are not on duty. But the activities in Columbia — with indications similar circumstances have occurred elsewhere on foreign trips — involves more than a little steam.

The revelation that there was a widespread effort to recruit prostitutes for a party is deeply disturbing. The incident created an obvious security breach that is counter to everything the Secret Service stands for.

Significantly, this incident followed on the heels of another scandal involving the conduct of federal officials. Also being investigated are the spending habits of top personnel in the General Services Administration, with the holding of lavish conferences, including a gaudy affair in Las Vegas in 2010.

A report regarding that event has cost some GSA officials their jobs and has Congress asking lots of questions.

The two scandals have their obvious differences. But deep down, they reflect a problem common among those in authority: A sense of entitlement that simply does not exist.

Common sense, common ethics and a concern for institutional reputation should have stopped Secret Service agents from doing what they did in Columbia. These same qualities also should have told GSA officials that outrageous spending on events was contrary to the notion of public service.

Instead, at the GSA such spending seemed to be a joke.

The easy answer to all of this is better oversight. Improved mechanisms are needed to monitor spending and demand accountability.

However, rules are effective only so long as the people they apply to follow them. In the end, firing people becomes the last resort for ending a flawed sense of entitlement.

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