President Barack Obama has tapped Julia Pierson to lead the Secret Service. She joins a small, but growing, group changing society’s ideas about women in leadership. Some of the other women include Michele Leonhart, CIA Director, Stacia A. Hylton, Director of U.S. Marshals Service, and head of the CIA Spy Unit, a woman not named publicly given the nature of her job.
Born in Orlando, FL it is not surprising that Pierson once worked at Disney World. Good Morning America has reported that she counts the experience she gained with crowd control at Disney as important to her work with the Secret Service.
A graduate of the University of Florida, Pierson joined the Secret Service in the Miami field office after 3 years as a police officer. She earned the respect of her peers and praise from supervisors from her earliest days of service
Pierson succeeds Mark Sullivan who served as Director between 2006 and 2013. Like Pierson, Sullivan joined the Secret Service in 1983. Before her appointment, and his resignation, Pierson was Chief of Staff to Sullivan. In that role, she focused on technology and modernization. Pierson has also worked as the agency’s drug program coordinator and assistant special agent in charge of the Office of Protective Operations.
Sullivan’s resignation came almost a year after the embarrassing scandal involving Secret Service agents and sex workers in Columbia. Part of Pierson’s charge will be to repair the reputation of the agency and dismantle whatever cultural norms that led some agents to engage prostitutes.
The Secret Service was formed in 1865 with a focus on counterfeiting. That focus changed with the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Since that time the agency has concerned itself largely with protecting current and former presidents, vice president, presidential candidates and visiting dignitaries.
Pierson’s appointment should be heartening for everyone anxious to see more opportunities become available for women. The first woman was accepted into the Secret Service in 1975; more than 100 years after the agency was established. We’ve come a long way since 1865 and even 1975. Forty years ago there were no women in the Secret Service. Today, a woman leads 3,500 Secret Service agents. About 15% of those agents are women. Senate confirmation was not required for her appointment. Pierson was sworn in by Vice-President Joe Biden on March 27, 2013. She is the 23rd director of the secret service.