-- The U.S. Secret Service responded today to a New York Times report suggesting that the use of citizen volunteers to drive certain vehicles in presidential motorcades could pose a security or safety risk.
Natalie Tyson, a 24-year-old graduate student who spoke to The Times in an interview about her volunteer experience in a motorcade in San Francisco earlier this year, told the newspaper she received little instruction as to what to do in an emergency. Tyson said a childhood friend who currently works at the White House reached out to her to see if she would be interested in serving as a driver, according to the article.
"He just texted me and said, 'Do you want to volunteer as part of this and drive in the motorcade?'" Tyson told The Times. According to the story, she was assigned to drive a van full of White House reporters, in a tightly-packed motorcade that reached speeds of 80 mph.
"Volunteer drivers in Presidential motorcades drive staff and press vehicles and are briefed by the Secret Service agent responsible for the motorcade prior to any movements," a spokesman for the agency said today in a statement to ABC News. "The motorcade has a police escort and typically there is no other traffic on the road at the time the Presidential motorcade is moving."
The Times quoted Dan Emmett, a former Secret Service agent with more than two decades of experience at the agency charged with protecting the president, who said the practice was troubling.
"If the motorcade ever comes under fire, it's going to be a problem,” Emmett said in the story.
But the "secure package" of Secret Service vehicles around the president is a separate entity and are driven by Secret Service personnel, the agency said today.
"In the event of an incident the remaining vehicles have police escort for any movements they would need to make," the Secret Service spokesman said in a statement to ABC News. "As far as the ambulance being at the back of the motorcade, the doctor is in the secure package in the event they are needed."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request from ABC News for comment.
The latest revelations cap off a less-than-stellar year for the Secret Service.
Former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was forced to resign following a September incident in which a White House fence jumper managed to enter the executive mansion through the North Portico, running past the Obama family's living quarters and into the East Room before he was tackled by an agent.
Then, during the president's September visit to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, it was discovered that President Obama rode an elevator with an armed security contractor who had a criminal record. The man was flagged because he was taking pictures and acting unprofessional in the elevator, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Also in March, three counter-assault agents responsible for protecting the president in Amsterdam were sent home after getting drunk less than 10 hours before they were expected to report for duty, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service confirmed to ABC News at the time.
A review earlier this month by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson found that the agency needs "the right person" to become the next Secret Service director and "should come from outside the Service."