Secret Service manpower shortage as campaigns ramp up

By Clarece Polke WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Secret Service, tasked with simultaneously protecting President Barack Obama and some of the Republican and Democratic candidates now running to replace him next year, is facing a manpower shortfall at a time of peak demand, the agency told Congress on Tuesday. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy told a House Appropriations panel the agency is focused on “human capital needs across the organization” and accruing enough agents to ease overtime demands on the existing force. The Secret Service hopes to have 7,600 agents in its ranks by fiscal year 2019, up from the current figure of approximately 6,200, Committee Chairman John Carter of Texas said during Tuesday's hearing. While Clancy said the Secret Service was making progress in hiring more agents, "we have yet to see the desired impact on our overall staffing levels due to increased attrition.” Clancy testified at a hearing to review the agency's funding needs for the fiscal year starting on Oct. 1. Demands of the mission are peaking, he added, with Republican and Democratic presidential nominating conventions slated for this summer, the general elections in November and presidential inaugural events in January. Carter cited the loss of 19 agents in the last four months and the large amounts of overtime hours agents have had to put in on the president’s detail, on the campaign trail and in the uniformed division. Carter, a Republican, questioned whether the service’s hiring goals were “obtainable” with the agency “losing more agents than they have brought on board.” Clancy responded that the agency is exploring initiatives to lure more applicants and retain current agents. The Secret Service was rocked in 2012 when it surfaced that some agents working a presidential trip to Colombia were involved with prostitutes. In 2014, agents failed to stop a man who jumped the White House fence, ran across the lawn and made it into the mansion before he was apprehended. More recently, during a rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump in Radford, Virginia, a Time magazine photographer was grabbed by the neck and shoved to the ground by a Secret Service agent. An agency spokeswoman said the service is investigating the incident. Besides protecting the president and presidential candidates, Secret Service agents investigate financial crimes such as counterfeiting of U.S. currency and credit card and fraud. (Reporting by Clarece Polke, editing by Richard Cowan and Alan Crosby)