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'Apolitical' Secret Service Vows To Bolster Agent Training

On the fourth floor of Secret Service headquarters, a panel of video screens offers a window into the agency's future – long on hold. A replica of the White House appears as if transported to an 18-acre lot, 20 miles north of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The nearly $10 million Maryland training facility project has remained an unrealized dream, even after high-profile White House security breaches raised serious questions about the agency's training regimen in which agents drilled on an empty parking lot with an imaginary mansion in the background. "It is unfathomable," Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle tells USA Today, referring to the absence of such a tool.

Almost a decade after the project was proposed, Cheatle believes the agency is closer to winning congressional approval. The project would be the largest addition to the Secret Service's physical footprint in years. The agency is anxious to turn the page on a turbulent era in which its performance and apolitical brand have been questioned. For Cheatle, 52, the stakes could not be higher as the agency confronts long-standing challenges, including staffing shortages and training struggles as it gears up for the 2024 presidential campaign. "I think, unfortunately, the Secret Service has been painted, at times inaccurately, as being a political organization and we're not," Cheatle said. "We don't talk politics here. We are an agency that truly does take pride in our apolitical mission." Seven months into her tenure as director, Cheatle, the second woman to lead the agency, appears anxious to reclaim the agency's mission. The disclosure that text messages were missing from the agency's cache of communications around the time of the Jan. 6 Capitol attacks prompted an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general. The temporary assignment of agency executive,Tony Ornato as deputy chief of staff in the Trump White House at the time of the Jan. 6 assault brought criticism from lawmakers and former agency officials who described the move as a violation of the agency's apolitical role. Former director John Magaw described the arrangement as "horrendous."


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