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US Lawmakers Grill Secret Service Chief Over Misconduct

U.S. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy testifies on Capitol Hill, March 17, 2015.

The new head of the U.S. Secret Service appeared Tuesday before outraged lawmakers who demanded to know why incidents of misconduct continue to plague his agency.

Testifying in front of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, Joseph Clancy was peppered with inquiries about the latest episode at the White House, which involved a late-night disruption at a command post during an investigation of a possible bomb.

The Secret Service director said he did not learn about the March 4 incident until five days later from an anonymous email, a delay he described as unacceptable.

Clancy did not address whether the agents returning from a party were impaired at the time of the accident, but he said there is "an element in our agency that copes with stresses by using alcohol.''

He described the incident as "my first test'' as director, adding that the two senior agents involved were not given a sobriety test after bumping their government car into an orange barrel marking the perimeter of the investigation.

Lawmakers objected to his response, saying it already should have been clear to agency employees that such behavior would not be tolerated.

Clancy agreed with much of the criticism, but said he had to wait for a Homeland Security Department Inspector General's investigation to be completed before he could take action beyond reassigning the two agents to non-supervisory desk jobs outside the White House.

Problems within the Secret Service have been highlighted in recent years as agents and officers have been caught up in a series of embarrassing incidents. The most scandalous incident involved more than a dozen agents and officers caught up in a prostitution scandal in Colombia in advance of a 2012 presidential visit.

At the time, then-director Mark Sullivan insisted that there was not a larger culture problem within the vaunted law enforcement agency charged with protecting the president. His successor, Julia Pierson, made similar assurances after two drunken incidents came to light involving employees on presidential trips.

Pierson was ousted last year after details of two serious security breaches were disclosed. The most serious was in September when a man armed with a knife was able to climb over a White House fence and run deep into the executive mansion before being subdued.