President Obama names Julia Pierson to head Secret Service

WASHINGTON — A year after the U.S. Secret Service was embroiled in a prostitution scandal, President Obama on Tuesday named a high-ranking career employee to become its first female director.

Julia A. Pierson, a veteran of the agency’s Miami and Orlando, Fla., field offices, currently serves as chief of staff of the law enforcement agency best known for protecting the U.S. president. She will replace Mark Sullivan, who last month announced his retirement.

Sullivan’s term was marred by the aftermath of a night of partying in Cartagena, Colombia, where agents were preparing for Obama’s visit. Several employees brought women — some alleged to be prostitutes — back to their hotel. The matter became public after a dispute between one of the agency employees and a woman said to be a prostitute.

Ultimately, eight employees were forced out, and Sullivan had to apologize for the incident in testimony before the Senate.

The agency Pierson will head has more than 150 offices throughout the United States and abroad. Created to combat counterfeiting of U.S. currency, the agency now also protects national and visiting foreign leaders, secures national sites and events, and conducts related criminal investigations.


In announcing her appointment, Obama cited Pierson’s 30 years with the Secret Service and her leadership roles in protective operations, human resources and training.

“Julia is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own,” Obama said.

As Obama puts together his team for the second term, Pierson is the first woman he has appointed to head a national security agency. Obama faced some criticism when he named men to head three of the most high-profile departments: the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA.

He has named a number of female appointees, including Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department, Gina McCarthy to be the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Mary Jo White to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission and Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Pierson will answer to Janet Napolitano, who is staying on in her position as secretary of the Homeland Security Department.

The appointment to head the agency does not have to be confirmed by the Senate, according to an agency spokesman.

A former Orlando police officer, Pierson joined the Secret Service in 1983 as a special agent in Miami. She later became deputy director in charge of protective operations before rising through the ranks, according to a news release from the White House.