Secret Service chief of staff Julia Pierson was sworn in Wednesday as the agency's new director following a tumultuous year for the agency, which, among other things, endured a prostitution scandal.
“I have to say that Julia’s reputation within the service is extraordinary, she’s come up through the ranks, she’s done just about every job there is to do at the Secret Service," Obama said at Pierson's swearing-in during an Oval Office ceremony, according to the White House pool report. "Obviously, she’s breaking the mold in terms of directors of the agency, and I think that people are all extraordinarily proud of her."
Pierson has over 30 years of experience at the Secret Service. She's worked as an agent, in human relations and in various leadership roles.
The agency is responsible for providing protection for the nation's political leaders—including the president—and investigating financial crimes.
Earlier Wednesday, White House principal deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest declined to link Pierson's gender to the reason she was picked for the position. At the White House briefing he told reporters that "the fact that she is the first woman to lead this agency is notable, and I think it's important, but it's not the reason she was chosen for the job. She was chosen for the job because she is the right person at the right time to lead this agency."
Earnest was responding to the suggestion that the president's appointment of Pierson as well as other women to positions of power in the administration was a message aimed at criticism that he was appointing only white men to top posts at the start of his second term. Earnest also declined to connect Pierson's gender and appointment to the Secret Service scandal.
The agency in 2012 was rocked by a scandal involving 13 male employees, some of whom brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms while in Colombia on a trip to protect the president.
Pierson served as chief of staff for previous Director Mark Sullivan, who retired in February after apologizing last year for the scandal and implementing changes within the agency designed to reform practices, the agency's culture and its reputation.