Obama names Julia Pierson to be first female director for Secret Service

President Obama on Tuesday named U.S. Secret Service agent Julia Pierson to be the agency's new director, the first woman to hold that post.

"Julia 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," Obama said in a statement, highlighting Pierson's 30 years of service.

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"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," he added.

Pierson, currently the agency's chief of staff, will succeed Mark Sullivan. Sullivan retired as director in January after serving with the Secret Service for roughly three decades.

He came under intense scrutiny from Congress over the last year as lawmakers investigated the agency's handling of an incident in Cartagena, Colombia, in which agents invited prostitutes back to their hotel rooms during an assignment.

Sullivan said he was "dumbfounded" by the scandal and said the incident was not common for the agency.

Six agents were dismissed or reassigned after the incident, which angered lawmakers and marred the agency's reputation.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) praised Pierson's appointment Tuesday, calling it a “proud milestone” for the agency and women.

“The President’s appointment of Julia Pierson as the new Director of the U.S. Secret Service is welcome news and a proud milestone as Ms. Pierson becomes the first woman to lead the agency,” said Carper in a statement.

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“Ms. Pierson’s vast experience has prepared her to lead this agency with its critical protective, investigative and cybersecurity missions,” he added.

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Pierson has “a lot of work” to do in order to restore trust in the Secret Service following the incident in Colombia.

“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,” said Grassley.

“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.”

Before her post as chief of staff, Pierson served as the agency's assistant director of the Office of Human Resources and Training. Before joining the Secret Service, she was an officer with the Orlando Police Department.

Obama's selection of Pierson follows intense criticism over the perceived lack of diversity in his second-term appointments.

The president has since appointed a number of women and minorities to high-profile positions in his administration, including Interior nominee Sally Jewell and Department of Justice attorney Thomas Perez for secretary of Labor.

—Jordy Yager contributed.

Update at 4:56 p.m.