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Agency's director has urgent task in wake of scandal

The Secret Service scandal reminds us that, with so much testosterone and flabby willpower on display, a little character-maintenance within the Service is in order.

The embarrassment in Cartagena is more than a temporary falling off. It is a blot on the character of the good men and women in the service. It is a disappointment to me, as well.

In my experience in federal law enforcement, I rarely met a Secret Service agent who wasn't top quality. I have known five Secret Service directors and each was outstanding.

For the sake of the service, I hope that Director Mark Sullivan is taking appropriate steps to see that this doesn't happen again. The sheer scale makes one wonder about the possibility of other escapades. It would be surprising if a failing like this was a one-off.

Any investigations should include an analysis of the culture of professionalism within the service. There are limits to what the agency can do to repair itself.

Perhaps an external review is in order. There are different audiences to serve. The service comes first. Agents and uniform personnel must see that justice is being done.

This means that Secret Service employees accused of conduct violations must have the chance to defend themselves with appropriate due process. This takes time.

Sullivan is on the spot. He's got to do the right thing. With a number of agents already having left the service, it appears this is happening. His own job will be on the line if he does not.

The key to good work in the service is planning, anticipating the unexpected, providing redundancy to deal with it, and teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. This was not the norm in Colombia. Secret Service morale has to be low.

While oversight committees in Congress understand the necessity for an internal review, they have limited patience. Like citizens, they want improper behavior punished, either through administrative reprimand or outright firing, depending upon the investigation's outcome.

More than this, they want the assurance that the Secret Service will not be materially distracted. The service needs to focus its attention to doing its myriad tasks, protection, counterfeit investigations, credit card fraud, among its other remits, as soon as possible.

In the end, it's important to remember how much great work the Secret Service does that is never reported. I remember the agent in charge of the presidential detail saying to me outside the White House one night: "Whew! Success. We got him home again."

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Michael D. Langan was senior adviser to the Undersecretary for Enforcement at Treasury from 1988 to 1998. The undersecretary had oversight of the Secret Service. Langan later served as a senior expert with the United Nations, dealing with the Taliban and al-Qaida.