In response to an increasing demand for new recruits for the Secret Service, director Randolph Alles said the agency will ease its drug policy to accommodate a younger group of applicants. Alles, who has been on the job for about 40 days, said that he plans to add 3000 new employees to a “very dedicated” group of agents, who have been struggling to cope with around-the-clock coverage of the President’s family.
The new policy, which became effective last month, is a response to an increase of cannabis use thanks to legalization, and a recognition that experimental drug use is quite common in a younger population. The agency uses a “whole-person concept” when selecting applicants, but would disqualify candidate if they admitted to using marijuana on a certain number of occasions. They will also consider the amount of time that has passed between the application to the service and the last time they used marijuana. According to the agency, the change in policy follows similar changes made by other government agencies.
While the government may be easing its restrictions on drug use among federal employees, it seems to be cracking down on drug use among the citizens they serve. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for stricter sentencing guidelines and asked that federal prosecutors to seek the maximum penalties for drug crime. Whether the government is aware that they may be holding the public to a higher standard than their own employees is unclear.
Compared to the rest of the Secret Service application process, this policy change is minimal. Applicants must consent to a polygraph test, something other agencies have considered eliminating or making optional due to similar staffing shortages. Background and credit checks, as well as vision exams are also seriously considered when looking at applicants who are responsible for the President’s safety.
Alles will have to balance the strict requirements of the agency with the desperate need for more staff. “We need more people. The mission has changed,” said Alles, mentioning modern day threats including terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS, as well as domestic terrorism. “It’s more dynamic and way more dangerous than it has been in years past.”
The President had met with Alles on only one occasion prior to hiring him, but Secret Service agents have daily contact with the President and his family, as well as his numerous properties. The first family is required to have 24-hour Secret Service protection wherever they go. The properties themselves are also guarded around the clock, even if they are unoccupied.
“I think between that and the fact that he has a larger family, that’s just more stress on the organization. We recognize that,” said Alles, and has made policy and personnel changes to accommodate the family.
Instead of preferring presidential retreats like Camp David in Maryland, which Secret Service agents know well and is closer to home, Trump travels to his Mar-A-Lago compound on weekends, or to a property in New Jersey.
“Obviously, we won’t be able to dictate his travel,” said Alles. “We interface with his staff on how they schedule things and what works better and causes us less resource demands.”
The Secret Service receives roughly 6-8 threats on the president’s life per day. According to Alles, that number has been consistent throughout the last decade. Comedian Kathy Griffin had to apologize for her image depicting the president’s severed head. The Secret Service has a policy of not commenting on individual threats made to the president, including Griffin’s, but similar cases have typically been subject to an official investigation.