Secret Service Chief 'Frustrated' by Latest Incident, Concedes It's His 'First Test'

He concedes that "it's his first test."

March 17, 2015, 11:23 AM

— -- The new head of the Secret Service conceded today that the latest allegations of misconduct within his agency are his "first test" as he tries to chart a new course for the service.

In addition, speaking before a House panel, director Joseph Clancy expressed concern that he learned about the allegations five days after initial reports that two senior-level Secret Service agents were "inebriated" and crashed into the White House grounds.

"I should have been informed ... and there will be accountability," Clancy said after intense questioning from members of the House Appropriations Committee. "I'm frustrated. I'm very frustrated that we didn't know about this until Monday."

As soon as he and his staff found out about the allegations -- through an "anonymous email" -- he held a meeting to discuss why there was such a delay.

"We had a good stern talk about that," he said. "There's no excuse for this information to not come up the chain," he said.

Nevertheless, Clancy and others seemed to take issue with how the incident has been portrayed publicly so far, suggesting the actual incident may not have been as severe as first reported.

Clancy said he has reviewed surveillance video of the March 4 incident, and it shows the government vehicle traveling at a slow rate of speed when its right bumper “nudged” an orange barrel standing outside of a White House checkpoint. The barrel did not fall over, Clancy added.

The agents in the vehicle, Mark Connolly and George Ogilvie, have been reassigned while the investigation is pending, according to the Secret Service. No one has been charged, and no police reports were filed about the incident, which took place at the southeast entrance to the White House complex at 15th Street and E Street in downtown Washington.

While Clancy has often dismissed suggestions that a culture within the Secret Service has led to so many alcohol-related controversies in recent years, he acknowledged today that “there is an element” within Secret Service ranks that copes with the stresses of the job by drinking alcohol.

"Oh please," one lawmaker shot back, insisting many public servants – particularly within the military – have stressful jobs but don’t resort to alcohol to handle the stress.

ABC News learned that during the March 4 incident, the agents drove through crime scene tape that was set up at that location from an earlier investigation of a suspicious package. The vehicle collided with an orange plastic barrel but sustained no damage, sources said. Multiple sources insisted there was no "crash," but that the behavior was suspicious enough to raise concerns of uniformed officers on the scene.

"Apparently two agents who have supervisory roles had been at a retirement party, and they left that party and went to the White House in a vehicle, in a Secret Service vehicle, and when they got to the entrance of the White House, they apparently flashed their badges or whatever, and it was obvious the guards that were there, that they may have been a bit impaired," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told ABC News.

"They went on to go through what was then an active crime scene investigation," Cummings said.

When uniformed officers confronted the agents, a supervisor ordered them to let the agents go without charge, government sources said. The supervisor is still on the job, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told ABC News. Unlike the agents in the car, the supervisor has not been reassigned pending the investigation.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas three weeks ago, Clancy vowed to chart a new course for the Secret Service.

“We have not received an unfair rap,” he conceded. “I think when you fail, and we have failed, we own it. Now, it’s up to us to correct it.”

In September, a man with a small knife in his pocket jumped the White House’s perimeter fence and made it deep inside the presidential building. That came more than two years after the Secret Service was shaken by the 2012 prostitution scandal out of Cartagena, Colombia.

At the time those scandals and others unfolded, Clancy was the head of security for Comcast, having left the government in 2011 after 27 years with the Secret Service. Clancy was “shocked” by what happened, he said.

Then, last month, a small drone flew over the fence and crashed on the White House grounds - prompting a predawn security scare. President Obama was in India at the time, and although the incident turned out to be a recreational flight gone awry, Clancy said he's “certainly concerned” about the threat a drone like that could pose.The newly-appointed Secret Service director was with President Obama in India, and the president “was very concerned, as he should be” about the breach, said Clancy, who found himself briefing the commander-in-chief on the matter.

"He wanted to know what happened," and he "had very specific questions," Clancy recalled. "But he has faith in the work that we’re doing."

At the hearing today, Clancy pleaded with lawmakers and the public to be patient as he tried to bring big changes to the embattled agency.

“It’s going to take time to change,” he said, noting repeatedly that he must wait for the results of the independent review to fire or otherwise discipline anyone.

“My focus is accountability, and this will be our first test," Clancy said, referring to the most recent allegation.

House members on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration over Clancy’s plea for patience, insisting he must take more action immediately.

Still, Clancy made this vow to lawmakers: "The president and the first family, they're safe."

ABC News' Devin Dwyer, Josh Margolin and Mary Bruce contributed to this report.

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