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Editorial: Resuscitate the Secret Service in time for 2016 race

Uniformed Secret Service officers walk along the lawn

Uniformed Secret Service officers walk along the lawn on the North side of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

The U.S. Secret Service is not at the top of its game. Unfortunately it's not even close, just as the 2016 presidential contest is about to put more players on the field.

The comedy of errors that let an intruder leap the fence and wander inside the White House on Sept. 19 included basic security lapses: an unlocked door, unintelligible radios, muted alarms and an agent distracted by his cellphone. It led to a review that found even deeper problems.

Some of the fixes a Department of Homeland Security panel recommended are a plea for simple common sense. Build a higher fence around the White House. Use bars that are vertical rather than horizontal and curved outward at the top so it's harder to climb, all without blocking the public's view of the building. And see to it that uniformed officers train more than the 25 minutes they did on average in 2013. Special agents trained for 42 hours, also less than in the past. Congress should provide funds to hire more personnel to reduce overtime and allow time for more training. But the problems go deeper.

The Secret Service is too insular, has been operating on autopilot and is starved for leadership, the panel said. That's dangerous for an organization with "a zero failure mission" to protect the president, his family, heads of state and presidential candidates -- tasks in which slip-ups could be catastrophic.

To rouse the Secret Service from its dangerous lethargy, President Barack Obama should tap a permanent director from outside. Demoralized by scandal and foul-ups, the service needs fresh energy, vision and accountability. Safeguarding the American president in a dangerous world demands a commitment to constant improvement.