It may have been "inexcusable," as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said this week, but the prostitution scandal that has embroiled the Secret Service in recent weeks should not affect the agency's readiness going forward.

The number of agents involved is relatively small, compared to the size of the agency. And the sunken costs involved in losing trained agents may not be especially noticeable, considering the fact that the presidential detail regularly loses agents due to turnover.

The Secret Service's budget has roughly doubled since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to $1.7 billion. Most of that increase is due to an expanded mission that includes protecting more dignitaries, The Washington Post reports.

More than half of the Secret Service budget is devoted to protection of individuals and facilities. Just over 3 percent of the budget, by contrast, funds the agency's Rowley Training Center, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Secret Service agents do receive ongoing training throughout their careers. Most work in field offices or investigations for years before joining the presidential or vice presidential protection details.

"For the president's and vice president's detail, most agents go there after they have between six and nine years on the job," says Brian Leary, a Secret Service spokesman.

So the fact that eight agents have been "separated" from the agency, as Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, does represent something of a loss in terms of training and personnel costs.

Such losses would be compounded, of course, if there is any foundation to fresh allegations, which Korva reported earlier, regarding Secret Service agents consorting with prostitutes in advance of a presidential trip to El Salvador last year.

The Secret Service said it would look into any allegation "assessed as credible." If there proves to be anything to them, they would echo complaints raised in recent days by some members of Congress that the scandal in Colombia was not an isolated incident.

But even if circumstances forced the Secret Service to lose another dozen agents — or even more — the practical hurdles involved in replacing them should not prove too great. Not only does the agency have a pipeline of talent waiting in its field offices, but it's used to losing agents from its presidential protection division.

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