One month ago, a man carrying two cans of Mace scaled the White House fence and roamed the grounds for almost 17 minutes — an eternity when it comes to the president’s home — before being taken into custody by the Secret Service.
The intruder hid behind a pillar at one point and peered inside windows — all while President Trump was in the executive mansion, according to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chairs the House government oversight committee. The full extent of the security breach didn't become known until Chaffetz called for a briefing and surveillance videos.
About the only good news is that this time, the intruder didn't get inside the White House, as happened in September 2014 when a knife-carrying man scaled the fence, came through the mansion’s unlocked front door, and ran deep inside before being subdued.
That 2014 incident — on top of numerous embarrassing lapses by agents in the field — toppled the Secret Service director and spurred what was supposed to be a monumental overhaul. But on March 10, the Secret Service Uniformed Division, which protects the nation's most important home, again looked like a TV parody of inept cops. The public still hasn't been told what went wrong. The Secret Service says the investigation is continuing.
Secret Service protective measures are, for good reason, confidential, but one publicrecommendation after the 2014 fiasco called for a stronger, higher fence around the White House.
What has happened since then? It took until spring 2015 to add temporary measures — small pencil-thin spikes atop the fence. In February, the fence design got the final required approval. Now, the Secret Service and the National Park Service “aim to begin construction” in 2018.
Yes, 2018. Three years and three months after the existing fence proved inadequate. True, any new fence needs to be protective, attractive and capable of standing the test of time while not making the White House look like an armed camp. But even for bureaucrats known to move at a glacial pace, more than three years to start construction of a better fence is ridiculous. The whole Pentagon was built in about 16 months.
The Secret Service needed approvals from the Fine Arts and National Capital Planning commissions in a process that began with an “information presentation” in May 2016, and it went through approvals that include concept, preliminary and final review.
Have any of these people heard of terrorism? Think about what the recent intruder could have done in 17 minutes if he had been a well-trained, heavily armed terrorist.
Last month's lapse was surprising because the Secret Service performed admirably in providing protection through Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the United States, the United Nations' 70th anniversary, which drew global leaders to New York, and last year’s presidential primaries and election.
But something is apparently still very wrong on the White House grounds — something that needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.