Julia Pierson, A Woman at the Head of the Secret Service

For the first time in a century and a half of history, a woman will manage the Secret Service. Barack Obama appointed Julia Pierson head of this federal agency, which is responsible for protecting the U.S. president and fighting fiscal fraud. Having been deputy assistant director of the Secret Service since 2008, she was already the highest-ranking woman in the agency. Furthermore, her nomination is also highly symbolic. She signals the president’s will to break with the masculine culture of an agency still recovering from a prostitution scandal.

This 54-year-old woman with “an exemplary career,” according to Obama, is the president’s choice to lead the agency. In fact, Pierson has no less than 30 years of experience under her belt in the Secret Service. She began her career in 1983 as a special agent in Florida, her home state. With her expertise in weaponry, between 1988 and 1992 she spent four years as part of George W. Bush’s protective detail. Some of her superiors still remember when she dressed up as a Disney character in anticipation of a presidential visit to Disney World. Since then, she has risen through the ranks and held several key administrative positions.

“I Know Julie Will Do an Outstanding Job”

“Whenever you give her an assignment, she always does an excellent job,” says Barbara Riggs, Pierson’s mentor at the Secret Service, in a New York Times interview. Pierson’s predecessor, Mark Sullivan, who resigned from his post last month after serving as head of the agency for seven years, praised her in a release: “This is a historic and exciting time for the Secret Service,” he said, “and I know Julie will do an outstanding job.”

The mission that awaits Julia Pierson is not among the easiest. She will have to restore the image of the Secret Service, tarnished by a prostitution scandal. Last year, while preparing for Obama’s arrival in Colombia for the Summit of the Americas, secret agents invited prostitutes to their hotel rooms. The director of the Secret Service had to present his excuses, and the agency’s code of conduct was modified as a result. Julia Pierson will also have to combat the deep-rooted machismo within the agency and try to open up the profession to women, who represent no more than 10 percent of the 3,500 special agents in the Secret Service, which has the lowest rate of new women on the job among all federal security agencies [in the U.S.].

Obama’s decision might cause a stir. According to The Washington Post, only a few weeks ago, ranking officials saw her as a weak candidate. “She’s not done her time in the trenches,” declared one of them behind the cover of anonymity to a U.S. daily, before adding that “[s]he’s mostly been riding a desk.” In their eyes, Pierson’s resume does not measure up to the experience of David O’Connor, one of the other favorites for the job. The latter had provided protection to several dignitaries: Bill Clinton’s daughter, Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign and even Pope Benedict XVI during an official visit to the United States. Reuters had even announced his nomination at the beginning of this month.

However, this was without taking into account the president’s decision to include more women within the ranks of his administration, following numerous criticisms about the low number of women in senior positions at the beginning of his second term.

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1 Comment

  1. Whatever happened to the old fashioned notion that the best qualified person gets the job. Oh that’s right’.we live in a politically correct world’ where losers receive a trophy so they won’t feel bad and less qualified college recruits get the coveted spot because there should be more blacks or whatever race is involved at the time. Bullshit I say.. if you work hard are more qualified’ then you deserve the reward. When will this assinied liberal viewpoint of trying to make everyone equal fall to the wayside where it belongs. It only creates division & less effective people doing & receiving a job they didn’t deserve in the first place.

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