WASHINGTON » Two senior Secret Service agents are under investigation for allegations that they crashed a government-issued car into a White House barricade after a night of drinking last week, prompting a new inquiry into personal misconduct by employees of the widely criticized law enforcement agency, officials said Wednesday.
The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, is investigating the March 4 incident, according to a Secret Service spokesman. Officials said the two agents may have been drunk as they ran their car through security tape and then careened into a barricade at one of the entrances to the White House grounds.
One of the agents was a top member of President Barack Obama’s protective detail, officials said.
"The Secret Service is aware of the allegations of misconduct involving two of our employees at the White House complex," said Brian Leary, a spokesman for the Secret Service. "If misconduct is identified, appropriate action will be taken based on established rules and regulations."
Joseph P. Clancy, the director of the Secret Service, has requested that an investigation into the allegations be handled by the Homeland Security inspector general, Leary said. Administration officials said Obama had been informed of the incident and supported the referral of the incident to the Homeland Security department.
"We are aware of the alleged incident," an administration official said, requesting anonymity because of the impending investigation. "We’re not going to comment further while that investigation is ongoing."
The latest occurrence, which was first reported by The Washington Post, follows a series of scandals and mishaps for the agency, including an embarrassing history with drinking incidents.
In 2012, a dozen agents were caught with prostitutes after they had been drinking in the days leading to a presidential summit meeting in Cartagena, Colombia. Nearly all the agents were dismissed, and the scandal led to a Homeland Security investigation into the agency’s culture.
Last year, two agents were sent home from a presidential trip in Europe after one was found passed out in a hotel hallway from a night of drinking.
Last fall, a man climbed over the White House fence and made it through the North Portico door and well into the mansion before he was tackled by officers. The fallout was so severe that the agency’s director, Julia A. Pierson, resigned under pressure.
In the fence-jumping case, agency officials were severely criticized by lawmakers and others for failing to be forthcoming about the details of the case before it was reported in the media.
Obama appointed Clancy, the head of his security detail during his first term, to lead the agency on an interim basis. Last month, the White House announced that Clancy would lead it permanently.
The decision went against recommendations from a Homeland Security panel that urged Obama to appoint an outsider to lead the agency.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and one of the agency’s most vocal critics, said that the incident was the latest example that the Secret Service needed to be run by an outsider.
"I believe we need a leader from the outside to transform the agency back to its elite status," Chaffetz said. "We have a lot of good men and women there, and this taints the agency and the White House and that’s not right."
He added, "It’s never good to be drunk at work especially if you are in the Secret Service."
Chaffetz said that four Secret Service employees had contacted his office in recent days to report the incident.
Secret Service officials did not say why they failed to issue a public report about the episode immediately after it occurred a week ago.
Officials said the incident last week appeared to have begun at a Washington bar where members of the agency were celebrating the retirement of Edwin Donovon, who had served for years as the spokesman for the Secret Service.
The two agents were on their way back to the White House in the government car and were stopped as they tried to get past an entrance that had been closed temporarily with security tape because of an unrelated investigation of a suspicious package, officials said. The car then ran through the tape and crashed into the barricade.
It is unclear what action was taken March 4 or whether the agents in question were detained or given sobriety tests. Leary said that theSecret Service "will fully cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General in this investigation."
An official with the agency, who was not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters, said that the two employees had been reassigned to "nonsupervisory, nonoperational" tasks while the investigation was underway.