President Obama made history again on March 26, naming veteran Secret Service agent Julia Pierson as the agency’s first female director.
Pierson, who served most recently as the agency’s chief of staff, will succeed Mark Sullivan, who announced his retirement in February.
“Over her 30 years of experience with the Secret Service, Julia has consistently exemplified the spirit and dedication the men and women of the service demonstrate every day,” said Obama in a statement announcing the appointment.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also praised both Pierson and Obama’s “historic decision” to put her in charge.
“I am confident that Julia’s background and capabilities will enable her to effectively lead the Secret Service as it continues to protect the safety of our First Families, our nation’s leaders, and the public at large,” Napolitano said in a statement.
Pierson, 53, has trail blazed throughout her Secret Service career, which the White House recognized by awarding her the Presidential Meritorious Executive Award for her unflagging, superior performance in management throughout her career.
She’s served as the agency’s chief of staff since 2008. Before that she held posts such as the deputy assistant director of the office of protective operations, deputy assistant director in the Office of Administration and assistant director of human resources and training.
Before joining the Secret Service as a special agent in 1983, Pierson worked as a police officer in Orlando, Fla.
Pierson’s appointment, which does not require congressional approval, could signal Obama’s attempt to transform the male-dominated agency, which recently has been mired in scandal.
Last year, the agency came under a cloud of condemnation when 13 Secret Service employees became swept up in a prostitution scandal during preparations for Obama’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia.
Sent ahead of the president, the agents indulged in a night of heavy partying at the Caribbean resort city, including bringing women, including prostitutes, to the hotel where they were staying.
News of the agents’ misbehaviour eclipsed the summit and embarrassed the U.S. delegation, prompting White House and congressional scrutiny. Eight of the agents were fired, and at least two others are fighting for their jobs.
Sen. Charles Grassley ( R-Iowa), said Pierson faces a tough task of restoring the stature of the agency.
“During the Colombia prostitution scandal, the Secret Service lost the trust of many Americans, and failed to live up to the high expectations placed on it,” he said in a statement March 26. “Ms. Pierson has a lot of work ahead of her to create a culture that respects the important job the agency is tasked with.
“I hope she succeeds in restoring lost credibility in the Secret Service.”