Secret Service Responds to Scandal

While in Columbia planning for President Obama's arrival, 11 U.S. Secret Service agents and 10 military personnel were involved in a scandal: 21 prostitutes were hired to entertain the fellas. A hotel manager learned of the situation when an argument over payment ensued between one of the prostitutes and an agent.


Image source.

Although prostitution is legal in parts of Columbia, other issues help us determine whether this behavior was ethical. One issue is that hiring a prostitute was been banned for military personnel in 2006. This ruling was put in place during the Bush Administration, partly to address human trafficking, a practice in Columbia as well.

In addition, a writer of an Atlanta blog sums up potential risks and consequences of the situation:

"Most importantly, while there is no evidence that the security of the president of the United States was endangered in this incident, an agency with this kind of internal culture could be easily manipulated by those with reason to do so. At the very least, the scandal has created a significant embarrassment for the U.S. government and put at risk the generally good reputation of the Secret Service."

How has the Secret Service handled the response? One PR and marketing manager gave the Secret Service an A- for its response-not a bad grade for handling a difficult situation. Here's his analysis (a rubric, of sorts): 

1. Communication. Following the breaking news of the scandal, the federal government appeared to work fast to alleviate concerns about a widespread issue. Many, however, feel this incident is possibly symbolic of a bigger cultural issue in the Secret Service. Grade: B+

2. Acknowledgement. When the story broke on April 13, Edwin Donovan, a Secret Service agency spokesman addressed the rumors by stating that an unspecified number of agents had been recalled and replaced by others. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey and White House Spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged the incident and have already voiced deep concern, plus several members of Congress have spoken out to defend the Secret Service vowing to launch a full investigation. Grade: A

4. Accountability. By all accounts, the military and Secret Service have appeared to take accountability. Although the story broke via a Washington Post reporter, the federal government has taken full responsibility for the agency's actions. Grade: B+

5. Timely updates. Following the news, the federal government steered the conversation to itself and became the irrefutable source of timely updates. Grade: A

6. Rectification. U.S. Secret Service agent Mark Sullivan swiftly announced that he is leading an investigation of the incident with support from Congressman Peter King, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. By all accounts, it appears that the Secret Service, military and Congress wish to assuage any concerns that this incident somehow compromised national security. Grade: A 

Overall grade: A-

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you assess the response to the scandal? Do you agree with the "A-" grade?
  • What else does the Secret Service agency need to communicate at this point? How should its leaders provide updates to rebuild confidence?