Recent misconduct at Secret Service comes amid tougher rules and scrutiny

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WASHINGTON -- In the days leading up to President Barack Obama's trip to Europe, the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, sat down with the agency's senior officials to reiterate a message she had focused on during her first year in the job.

Although it had been nearly two years since several agents were caught soliciting prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, shortly before Mr. Obama arrived there for a summit meeting, Ms. Pierson said that the agency remained under scrutiny. Agents should be reminded, she said, to be on their best behavior during the coming trip to Europe, where Mr. Obama planned to meet with European allies.

Despite her efforts, the agency and Ms. Pierson, who was traveling with the president on this trip, are again confronting embarrassing behavior by agents.

On Sunday, the day before Mr. Obama arrived in the Netherlands, three agents were sent home by the Secret Service in connection with excessive drinking. One of the agents was found passed out in a hotel hallway after he could not figure out how to get into his room.

The agents, who were part of a counterassault team, had gone out to dinner and continued to drink afterward. The Secret Service has put the agents on leave as it continues to investigate the matter.

The episode comes just four months after it was revealed that a supervisor was removed from Mr. Obama's security detail and demoted after being accused of leaving a bullet in a woman's room at a luxury hotel near the White House after having drinks with her.

While the episode in the Netherlands does not appear to have had any effect on the president's security, it has raised new questions about whether the Secret Service, which prides itself on remaining out of the headlines, has fostered a culture of debauchery.

Glenn Fine, a partner at the Dechert law firm and the Department of Justice's inspector general from 2000 to 2011, said the agency seems to be "having their fair share of incidents and I wouldn't dismiss them as one-offs because it continues to happen."

He added, "It's not good for the government because instead of taking their job seriously to protect the president and abide by the agency's rules and regulations, a few of these agents go on a frolic and a detour."

A spokesman for the Secret Service defended the agency's culture, saying that an examination by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general in December found that "the Secret Service takes appropriate action when misconduct is identified."

"The report concludes that there is no evidence that misconduct or inappropriate behavior is widespread in the Secret Service," said Ed Donovan, a spokesman.

In addition, Mr. Donovan said, "There is no evidence that leadership fosters an environment that tolerates inappropriate behavior."

In the aftermath of the episode in Colombia, the agency adopted several measures that it said would prevent similar problems. Amid scrutiny from members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security's office of the inspector general, the Secret Service said agents were prohibited from drinking alcohol less than 10 hours before reporting for duty. The measures also included ethics training for agents and more stringent penalties.

The inspector general's report said that about 83 percent of the 2,575 agency employees who were surveyed about the Secret Service's culture said they were not aware of colleagues who had behaved like the employees who were caught in Cartagena.

In regard to the Cartagena episode, which led to several agents being fired, the inspector general said that the agents had been treated fairly, and that the discipline was consistent with similar situations.

It was not clear Wednesday whether the episode in the Netherlands would renew scrutiny of the agency from members of Congress, who strongly criticized it after the Cartagena episode.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said that Mr. Carper was "troubled by the reports regarding the behavior of a few Secret Service agents serving on the president's detail in the Netherlands."

Mr. Carper "has been in touch with the head of the Secret Service and has requested more information about this incident," the spokeswoman said.

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