WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday appointed Julia Pierson, a longtime Secret Service agent, as the first woman to head the agency best known for protecting presidents, vice presidents and their families.
Ms. Pierson, the chief of staff to the departing director, Mark J. Sullivan, will take over at a time when the Secret Service is still recovering from a prostitution scandal that held it up to public ridicule, generated congressional hearings and cost a number of agents their jobs last year.
In a statement, Mr. Obama said Ms. Pierson "exemplified the spirit and dedication" of the agency but made no mention of the scandal.
"Julia is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own," Mr. Obama said. "Julia has had an exemplary career, and I know these experiences will guide her as she takes on this new challenge to lead the impressive men and women of this important agency."
As the chief of staff, Ms. Pierson is the agency's highest-ranking female special agent and has worked for the agency for three decades. She has worked as a field agent and in a variety of management positions involving human resources, cybercrime and anti-drug operations, and she has overseen the presidential and vice-presidential protective divisions.
Mr. Sullivan retired last month after almost three decades with the agency. He was tasked with shaking up operations after Secret Service agents were caught employing prostitutes while in Colombia to prepare for a presidential trip. He testified that those agents "did some really dumb things," but said that assuming such conduct "is condoned or authorized is just absurd."
A native of Orlando, Fla., Ms. Pierson joined the Secret Service in 1983 after three years as a police officer. She moved to the presidential protective division in 1988, became the agency's drug program coordinator in 1992 and was promoted to assistant special agent in charge of the Office of Protective Operations in 1996. After a stint in the Tampa area, where she established a task force to investigate cybercrimes, Ms. Pierson became special agent in charge in the Office of Protective Operations in 2000 and later deputy assistant director.
In a short biography prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, she was quoted talking about the agency's challenges. "I don't think people realize the amount of preparation work that goes into a presidential visit, everything from where the president is going to physically arrive, whether by airplane or limousine, to the actual event site."