Secret Service Recruitment Campaign Amps Up

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A Secret Service agent scans the crowd at the amphitheater of the Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day May 28, 2007 in Arlington, Va. (John Moore/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Secret Service has an aggressive hiring campaign underway. But many qualified candidates are being disqualified from the application process because of their past illegal use of prescription drugs, including Adderall.

This comes at a time when the agency is stretched thin after several controversies, and the country is in the middle of a contentious presidential election.

For more, Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with USA Today reporter Kevin Johnson, who covers national law enforcement issues and the Justice Department.

Interview Highlights: Kevin Johnson

On current state of affairs in the Secret Service

“It sort of comes at an unfortunate time where the Service is trying to move past a number of problems that have loomed in the last four years, you mentioned some of them, and now they’re making this attempt to rejuvenate the agency by embarking on this unprecedented — at least for the last 10 years, anyway — recruiting campaign. And the impetus for that is a staff stretched very, very thinly, working enormous overtime and, as you mentioned, many folks, at least 1,000 agents so far, and that’s a third of the agent workforce, has maxed out its combined overtime and salary compensation.”

On issues in recruiting, from drug abuse to internet use

“If you look at the numbers, they’re very interesting. In fiscal year 2016, 27,000 people, potential candidates, applied for agent jobs. Three hundred agent candidates were hired. So those are some huge numbers that have to be culled through to get to that endpoint. And one of the problems in getting to that finish line have been the drug histories in many these candidates. And for many of them, the drugs, the abuse of drugs, mostly prescription drugs have emerged in recent years like they haven’t before in many of the recruiters’ memories. They’ve emerged because a lot of the candidates don’t view their use of substances, like Adderall and other amphetamines, necessarily as being wrong. They’ve been using it to help them in their studies, as a study aid, to be able to work longer into the night. And it was the case for a candidate from Eastern Kentucky University. By all accounts, a very well-qualified individual who drove six hours, 400 miles, at his own expense to be interviewed by the Secret Service. Had passed the original testing, written test required, and had not disclosed previously that he had used Adderall to help him, for what he said, to become qualified for the very job that he was seeking.”

“I think it’s one part of what was described to me as a sort of a new culture of candidates emerging where drug uses is just one part of a background that’s become new to the people who are vetting these candidates. Other problems have emerged in Internet use, where, before, some of the very people who are interviewing some of these candidates, had no history of internet use when they applied for their jobs. So that’s become a new issue for the Secret Service, and for other law enforcement agencies.”

“Internet abuse, illegal downloading of material on the internet, and also their communications with friends and others on the Internet that could come back to haunt them at some point while working in federal law enforcement.”

On the scope of the Secret Service’s mission

“This discussion found some traction in the past four years as the Secret Service’s disclosures continued to stream out of security breaches, misconduct by agents. So folks on the Hill, a number of people in Congress, have raised this question of whether or not the Service should be confined to just the protective mission and farm out their responsibility for cyber and protection of financial institutions. Obviously as you say, it has not sat well with the Secret Service ,and Director Clancy, indicated that it would be a non-starter for him in terms of any discussion about trying to separate that mission.”

Guest

Kevin Johnson, USA Today reporter covering national law enforcement issues and the Justice Department. He tweets @bykevinj.

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