March 29, 2013
Julia Pierson will be the first woman to head the U.S. Secret Service, President Barack Obama has announced.
Pierson has a long career in law enforcement. Most recently, she was chief of staff to Mark Sullivan, who retired as Secret Service director in February.
Pierson was first a police officer, joining the Orlando police force in 1980. She joined the Secret Service in 1983. Moving to the presidential protective division in 1988, she served a few years protecting then-President George Bush.
She headed up the agency's drug program, beginning in 1992, and then established a cybercrime task force before becoming chief of staff, in 2008.
Of the about 3,500 Secret Service agents employed today, about 10 percent are women. That figure is lower than at other law enforcement agencies. However, the uniformed officers, which include the presidential protection unit, have a higher percentage of women.
The first woman joined the Secret Service in 1970.
Pierson will take over the agency at a time of close public scrutiny, in the wake of frowned-on behavior of several male agents on a presidential trip to Colombia last year.
Unlike other high-level presidential appointees, the Secret Service Director does not need Senate confirmation.
The Secret Service came into being in 1865, with the primary goal of curtailing the use of counterfeit money. The roles of Secret Service agents expanded in scope and included full-time protection of the President after the assassination of President William McKinley, in 1901. Secret Service protection has gradually widened to include Presidential families, former Presidents, presidential nominees, and visiting leaders of other countries.