Secret Service took a year to fix broken alarm at George H.W. Bush home

Published 10:47 am Thursday, April 23, 2015

WASHINGTON – The Secret Service took more than a year to replace a broken alarm system at former president George H.W. Bush’s home, raising concerns within the agency about the safety of the Houston residence and the Bush family, according to a government report scheduled to be released Thursday.

An agency expert had warned in 2010 that the alarm system, which monitors the property and the house, was aging and likely to fail. But Secret Service officials rejected his request to replace it, according to the report, which was written by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and reviewed by The Washington Post.

The 20-year-old alarm system stopped working in September 2013 and was not replaced for at least 13 months, until November or December of 2014, the report says.

During the time the alarms weren’t working, the Secret Service added an agent who rotated positions around the property. There were no known intruders or security breaches when the system was inoperable, but some inside the agency argued that the additional agent was not sufficient to replace the alarm system.

The new report recommended a broad review of needed upgrades and also a centralized system for tracking maintenance requests and system problems. The Secret Service said it launched the review even before the investigation by Inspector General John Roth was complete, examining technology and security systems for the White House and for the residences of former presidents and current top officials it protects.

Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said Wednesday night that the agency “has already taken steps to fully address” the IG’s recommendations.

A senior DHS official, requesting anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Wednesday that Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy has discovered significant problems in agency technology since taking the helm in October 2014 and has compiled a list of the most pressing needs. Clancy and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson have made upgrading technology and security at the White House and protectee residences a “top priority,” the official said.

“The service, supported by the department, is making it a priority to go through all of the security systems for all of the protectees, whether they are current officials or former presidents,” the official said. “It’s the department’s and the service’s job to always be concerned about their security, particularly in light of recent things we’ve learned.”

Technology is one of several challenges facing Clancy as he attempts to restore the image of the Secret Service after a string of missteps.

The Washington Post reported in January that the video surveillance and alarm systems at Vice President Joe Biden’s Delaware home had not been working properly and the Secret Service had indefinitely shut them off. According to Secret Service officials, agents protecting the house were told that because of budget constraints, repairs to the system would have to wait.

The new IG report also cites Secret Service officials as saying that alarm systems at Bush’s other home, in Kennebunkport, Maine, have shown signs of imminent failure and need substantial repairs.

The finding of the broken alarm at the Houston home drew anger from lawmakers.

“To not replace a failing system for more than a year is wholly and totally unacceptable,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Chaffetz, in a joint statement with his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said that the report “adds to the growing list of significant concerns Congress has had with the management of the Secret Service.”

Roth began investigating the security for Bush based on a complaint his office received in October 2014 about inoperable alarms at the Houston home. Bush, 90, is likely to reenter the spotlight in the coming months as his son Jeb readies a likely bid for the White House. The Maine estate has been a regular summertime gathering spot for the extended Bush family, including Jeb Bush and his brother, former president George W. Bush.