The cinematic image of a Secret Service agent is a cheerless man of stocky build with thick sunglasses, whispering brusquely into his sleeve. He’s part of a traditionally imagined boy’s club, a masculine space where women are invisible. But in a historic move that may help disrupt the macho image and ethos that surrounds the agency, President Obama has appointed Julia Peirson to be the first woman director of the Secret Service.
Peirson has worked for the agency for 30 years, beginning as a special agent in Miami and most recently being the Secret Service’s chief of staff. She will replace Mike Sullivan, who announced his retirement last month. Peirson will now head more than 150 offices throughout the world that are charged with keeping the president and other political leaders and their families safe. The President’s appointment does not have to be confirmed by the Senate, and Peirson will start reporting to Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano.
When announcing his decision, Obama commended Peirson:
Julia has had an exemplary career, and I know these experiences will guide her as she takes on this new challenge to lead the impressive men and women of this important agency.
Administration officials said Peirson was appointed in the hopes she can help reform the male-centered culture of the Secret Service and restore its credibility after the embarrassing Colombian prostitution debacle of April 2012, in which 13 Secret Service agents (all men, of course) were caught bringing prostitutes back to their hotel room during the President’s trip to Cartagena. Eight of the agents lost their jobs, and the scandal overshadowed the diplomatic aims of the trip. On top of protecting President Obama, Peirson will be responsible for rebuilding trust in the marred agency.
Cheers to another glass ceiling being shattered and another boys’ club forced to admit “girls.”