Obama to name woman Secret Service head

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will appoint veteran Secret Service agent Julia Pierson as the agency’s first female director, a White House official said, signaling his desire to change the culture at the male-dominated service, which has been marred by scandal.

Pierson, who most recently served as Secret Service chief of staff, will take over the top job from Mark Sullivan, who announced his retirement last month. The agency faced intense criticism during Sullivan’s tenure for a prostitution scandal during preparations for Obama’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia, last year.

The incident raised questions within the agency — as well as at the White House and on Capitol Hill — about the culture, particularly during foreign travel. In addition to protecting the president, the Secret Service also investigates financial crimes.

Obama is expected to announce Pierson’s appointment Tuesday, according to the official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the pick ahead of the president. Pierson does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Thirteen Secret Service employees were caught up in last year’s prostitution scandal. After a night of heavy partying in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, the employees brought women, including prostitutes, back to the hotel where they were staying. The incident became public after one agent refused to pay a prostitute and the pair argued about payment in a hotel hallway.

Eight of the employees were forced out of the agency, three were cleared of serious misconduct and at least two have been fighting to get their jobs back.

The incident took place ahead of Obama’s arrival in Colombia and the service said the president’s safety was never compromised. But news of the scandal broke during his trip, overshadowing the summit and embarrassing the U.S. delegation.

The incident prompted Sullivan to issue a new code of conduct that banned employees from drinking within 10 hours of starting a shift or bringing foreign nationals back to their hotel rooms.

Sullivan apologized for the incident last year during testimony before a Senate panel.

Associated Press writer Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.

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