Pavlich: A failing grade for law enforcement

Over the course of the past year and in recent weeks, the Secret Service, one of America’s most trusted federal law enforcement agencies, has received public and private scrutiny for bad behavior from agents and managers. Twelve agents were fired after being caught hiring prostitutes on a trip to Cartagena, Colombia. Two years later, an agent was found passed-out drunk in a hotel hallway just hours before the president was scheduled to arrive. And in September, a man with a bad leg was able to hop the fence at the White House and made his way all the way into the Green and East Rooms before being apprehended. 

According to former agents and investigative journalist Ronald Kessler, bad management and low morale inside the Secret Service are to blame.

“You can’t view these security failures in a vacuum. These all fit into a larger management problem, this insulated cabal at the top that has nearly abandoned the rank-and-file, and what you’re seeing now is a near mutiny with the agents. There’s a reason all of these whistleblowers are appearing, I assure you it’s not by accident. They feel like they have no one to go to, and they feel like they’ve been abandoned by the upper-level bureaucracy,” former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino recently said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “And it’s created significant problems and a distrust and in our business trust is all that matters.” 


An overhaul of the agency is long overdue, but unfortunately, it isn’t just the Secret Service that needs reform. A number of federal law enforcement agencies are experiencing the same or similar problems with corrupt, incompetent and unreliable management.

Much like the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was moved out from under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department in 2003 and into a bureaucracy at the Department of Justice (Secret Service was moved into the Department of Homeland Security from Treasury in 2003). With that move came a new culture and a new structure within the bureau.

“So much has changed. So much of what we once admired in our leadership — in simplest terms courage and confidence — became replaced with the lack of accountability, denial and cover up,” retired ATF Agent Jay Dobyns, who worked in the bureau for more than 25 years, wrote in the intro for my book Fast and Furious. “The mentality of agency moved from down and dirty everyday police work pursuing criminals towards a newer, cleaner, version where statistics and appearance reigned of supreme importance. When we once chased after a lone felon with a gun and scraped our knees doing it, we now were encouraged to sit behind a computer screen and electronically investigate a syndicate.”

According to results from a leaked 2012 ATF internal survey, morale is at an all-time low. When asked if “senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity,” agents overwhelmingly responded “no.” Supervisors were given failing marks in the areas of effective leadership, empowerment, fairness and overall performance.

Morale among Border Patrol agents working under the Department of Homeland Security is also low. Lawlessness dictated by political zealots in Washington, D.C., and managers willing to put agendas first are to blame and have left agents risking their lives to ask, “What’s the point?”

“We don’t think anyone in D.C. cares,” a source tells me. “Not Congress or the president. Agent morale is in the toilet. Why work hard if people coming here illegally are just going to be released?”

While the FBI doesn’t appear to have as many problems as the Secret Service, ATF or Border Patrol, there is certainly room for improvement. Managers inside the bureau have bad habit of skirting the Whistleblower Protection Act to punish agents for speaking out.

Iowa Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCriminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot Capitol physician advises lawmakers against attending dinners, receptions during COVID-19 spike Congress ends its year under shadow of COVID-19 MORE (R) has been pressing the FBI on this issue for years, and earlier this month released an internal memo showing alleged whistleblower retaliation through management abuse of loss of effectiveness orders, essentially bypassing basic protocols and due process for agents.

“Every time we bring this to the administration’s attention, more whistleblowers come forward. These whistleblowers never have the opportunity to make their case. It’s stereotypical treatment of whistleblowers for the executive branch,” Grassley said in a statement. 

Although each federal law enforcement agency operates in different ways, there are three main things they all have in common: a disconnect between management and street agents, low morale and intense retaliation against whistleblowers who courageously choose to expose corruption or simply disagree with the direction of management.

The deep separation between management and rank-and-file agents combined with embedded corruption is a serious problem with deadly results. It’s time to reform all of our federal law enforcement agencies, not just the Secret Service.


Pavlich is the news editor for Townhall.com and a Fox News contributor.