Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy acknowledged Tuesday that he did not learn of an incident in which two agents, who reportedly were drinking, allegedly drove onto the grounds of the White House until five days after it happened.
Clancy said during an appearance before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security that he learned of the alleged incident through a whistleblower, and expressed frustration several times at having been unaware of it for so long.
“Any time you had a senior-level [officer] on the president's detail who is alleged to even have come through a secure area, I should have been informed,” he said.
“We had a good stern talk about that and then instructed the staff to go out to their management to ensure that any event of misconduct or operational errors have to be relayed up the chain,' Clancy continued. "I will say that it’s going to take time to change some of this culture.
"I think there's a longstanding process, possibly, where people don’t want to relay bad information," he later said.
Clancy said that he had asked the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General to investigate the incident before the Secret Service conducts its own internal probe.
That decision drew criticism from some members of the panel. Subcommittee Chairman John Carter (R-Texas) said that referring the investigation to the inspector general's office could be a move to put the burgeoning scandal out of sight until the media and Congress moves on. Others expressed frustration that Clancy had not taken more immediate, severe disciplinary action against the agents involved, like firing them.
He responded that he could not do that until the incident had been investigated more thoroughly. The agents have been moved to "non-supervisory" positions.
Lawmakers from both parties subjected Clancy to a barrage of questions about the incident on March 4, when two reportedly intoxicated senior officers allegedly drove their vehicle on to the White House grounds. They allegedly disrupted an active bomb investigation during the incident.
Clancy said that he believed reports that the agents had not received sobriety tests to be true.
“I don’t sense at this moment that you have the determination to make [necessary changes to the agency],” Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the full committee's ranking member, was equally brutal.
"With all due respect, I’m just shocked by your testimony,” she said.
For months, lawmakers have probed the culture of the Secret Service as they investigated a series of security lapses at the White House.
Clancy faced several questions about whether there was a problem with agents using alcohol to deal with the stress of their jobs.
"In stressful jobs, those two become a major part of how people get through the day," Carter said of alcohol and caffeine. "But alcohol, as we all know, it messes up your judgment.
"We do have an element that goes to alcohol" to cope with the pressure of being part of the Secret Service, Clancy added.
While the hearing was dominated by the incident with the two agents, Clancy's appearance before the committee was intended to discuss the agency's budget request, including a planned $8 million replica of the White House to be used for training.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said he had "concerns" about the request. Clancy said it was necessary part of the agency's plan to raise training standards.
"Right now we train on a parking lot, basically,” he said. "On that parking lot, we don’t have the bushes, we don’t have the fences."
Last year, a man jumped the White House fence and made it inside the building before being apprehended. That incident, compounded by other breaches, led to intense congressional scrutiny and the resignation of then-Director Julia Pierson.
This story was updated at 12:50 p.m.