WASHINGTON (AP) - Secret Service agents are often portrayed in popular culture as disciplined, unflappable, loyal and male. A spiraling prostitution scandal that has highlighted the dearth of women in the agency that protects the president and dignitaries has many wondering: Would more females in the ranks prevent future dishonor?
Only about a tenth of field agents and uniformed officers are women, a shortage some attribute to travel demands that can be especially taxing on women balancing families and careers. A scandal that risks portraying the agency as unfriendly to women, however, could set back efforts to close the gender gap.
''I can't help but think that there would be some progress if there was more diversity and if there were more women that were there,'' said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. ``When you have a diversity of people there, it brings more accountability. What you see is a lack of accountability in this.''
Women make up about 25 percent of the agency's workforce, but only about 11 percent of agents and uniformed officers, said spokesman Ed Donovan. That's significantly lower than the 19 percent of female special agents in the FBI, though higher than the 9.7 percent of special agents who are women in the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Secret Service does not provide gender breakdowns on the agents assigned to presidential details, though women have been included on those assignments for years.
The agency has aggressively recruited women, targeting female-oriented career fairs and sending brochures to colleges. ``We all recognize that we want to get more women into the Secret Service,'' Donovan said.
But that wasn't easy even before the prostitution embarrassment in Colombia, which unfolded two weeks ago when a dispute over payment between a prostitute and Secret Service officer spilled into a hotel hallway. A dozen Secret Service employees and a dozen enlisted military personnel have been implicated. Although Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said it appeared to be isolated, the agency has since confirmed it's investigating if employees hired prostitutes and strippers ahead of President Barack Obama's visit to El Salvador last year. The agency on Friday also announced stricter measures, including assigning chaperones on some trips to enforce new rules of conduct for agents and employees.