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New director faces an uphill struggle as he tries to reform the Secret Service

The Secret Service, already under scrutiny for a litany of mishaps and missteps, is again embroiled in controversy.

In the latest incident, two senior Secret Service agents drove a government car into White House security barricades, disrupting an active investigation, after drinking at a late-night party. Worse, rather than being arrested, they were allowed to go on their way.

This happened even though agents know the force is under intense scrutiny for its recent history of agents binge drinking and cavorting with prostitutes. Last fall, an intruder managed to scale the White House fence and make his way deep inside the mansion. The agency’s director resigned after that lapse.

Last week’s incident puts pressure on the still-new director and opens the president to further criticism for not appointing an outsider to shape up the agency.

If Joseph P. Clancy really is the right guy for the job – he headed President Obama’s security detail during his first term – then he will get the Secret Service through this latest mess and go about restoring the reputation of the once-proud agency. Failure to set much higher standards should draw a swift response from the White House.

It will certainly lend credence to criticism being leveled by Reps. Jason Chafettz, R-Utah, and Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the chairman and the ranking Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They issued a joint statement about the embarrassment and “clear lack of judgment in a potentially dangerous situation.”

That’s putting it mildly.

The Washington Post first reported the March 4 incident involving two senior Secret Service agents, one of whom is a top member of the president’s protective detail. They drove their government car, apparently with its emergency lights on, into a barrier, intruding on the investigation of a suspicious package.

According to the Post, officers on duty wanted to arrest the agents and conduct sobriety tests. Instead, officers were ordered by a supervisor to allow the agents to go home.

If true, that supervisor should be fired and the agents suspended during the investigation. No ordinary citizen would ever be allowed to crash through a White House barricade and then get sent home, let alone escape a sobriety test.

Clancy has been on the job only a month and is already making changes, but this security lapse shows how big a job he faces in straightening out the mess that has become the Secret Service, and in demonstrating that the president made the right choice.