After multiple slip-ups that critics say could’ve put President Barack Obama and his family at risk, the Secret Service wants to try something new: Training on a replica White House.
An $8 million White House replica, to be exact.
During a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee on the agency’s budget request, Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy outlined an $8 million request to build a better replica to train his agents.
“Right now, we train on a parking lot, basically,” Clancy said. “We put up a makeshift fence and walk off the distance between the fence at the White House and the actual house itself. We don’t have the bushes, we don’t have the fountains, we don’t get a realistic look at the White House.”
Clancy said that even the Secret Service dogs are hobbled by this scenario, as they’re “responding on hard surfaces rather than grass.”
“It’s important to have a true replica of what the White House is so we can do a better job of this integrated training between our uniform division officers, our agents and our tactical teams,” Clancy added.
In prepared remarks, Clancy said the current Secret Service training grounds in Maryland offer only a “rudimentary, not to scale simulation of the north grounds of the White House,” and the replica would provide agents with a “more realistic environment, conducive to scenario-based training exercises” to train agents.
The replica would include the facade of the White House, the East and West Wings, guard booths and the surrounding grounds and roads, according to The New York Times.
Clancy’s testimony comes as the Secret Service is facing renewed scrutiny over a recent incident in which two agents, who were allegedly under the influence of alcohol, interrupted an active suspicious package investigation on the White House grounds. Just six months prior, Secret Service failed to stop an intruder from jumping the White House fence and entering the residence, an incident that prompted multiple internal evaluations and reports on what went wrong.
One of those reports suggested agents should be training in “conditions that replicate the physical environment” in which they work.
The Secret Service is also asking for millions to renovate a “live-fire shoot house” and to update a “tactical village” training site that seeks to replicate a typical city street environment.
But many critics – both inside and outside of the service — have said the agency needs to address cultural problems that may require a top-to-bottom overhaul, not just a fake White House for training.