Obama announces first female Secret Service director

Julia Pierson. United States Secret Service

Julia Pierson.
United States Secret Service

President Obama today announced he will appoint as the first female director of the U.S. Secret Service 30-year veteran agent Julia Pierson, signaling his desire to change the culture at the male-dominated agency, which has been marred by scandal.

In her 30 years with the Secret Service, Mr. Obama said in a statement, Pierson "is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own. Julia has had an exemplary career, and I know these experiences will guide her as she takes on this new challenge to lead the impressive men and women of this important agency."

Pierson, who most recently served as Secret Service chief of staff, does not require Senate confirmation and will take over the top job from Mark Sullivan, who announced his retirement last month. The service faced intense criticism during Sullivan's tenure for a prostitution scandal during preparations for the president's trip to Cartagena, Colombia, last year.

Thirteen Secret Service employees were caught up in last year's prostitution scandal. After a night of heavy partying in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, the employees brought women, including prostitutes, back to the hotel where they were staying. The incident became public after one agent refused to pay a prostitute and the pair argued about payment in a hotel hallway.

Eight of the employees were forced out of the agency, three were cleared of serious misconduct and at least two have been fighting to get their jobs back. Though the service said the president's safety on the Colombia trip was never compromised, the incident prompted Sullivan to issue a new code of conduct that banned employees from drinking within 10 hours of starting a shift or bringing foreign nationals back to their hotel rooms.

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