Mark Sullivan
© Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America
Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan participates in a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on December 3, 2009 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, a 30-year veteran of the agency that protects American presidents and visiting dignitaries, will retire on Feb. 22, according to Brian Leary, a spokesman.

Sullivan, who began his Secret Service career in 1983, has been its director since 2006, when he was promoted from assistant director. He will retire as the third-longest-serving head of the agency, Leary said yesterday.

"From securing large events such as presidential inaugurations to safeguarding our financial system, the men and women of the agency perform their mission with professionalism and dedication," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "That is a testament to Mark and his steadfast leadership, which will be missed."

Sullivan, a Massachusetts native, joined the Secret Service as a special agent in the Detroit Field Office and rose through the ranks to lead the agency's more than 150 offices around the world. In 1991, Sullivan began work in the Presidential Protective Division, where he served for four years, according to his biography on the agency's website.

"Mark Sullivan epitomizes the term 'public service,' and has devoted his life to the safety of our First Families, our nation's leaders, and the public at large," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. "I am deeply grateful for his contributions."

Dual Role

The Secret Service, part of the Homeland Security, has a dual role as the chief protective service for the president and as an authority to police the nation's financial infrastructure.

Created in 1865 to combat counterfeit currency, the agency began providing part-time protection for the president in 1894. In 1902, the agency assumed full-time responsibility for protecting the president. The service employs about 7,000 people with a $1.6 billion budget, according to its website.

A scandal arose at the agency last year, resulting in nine employees being either fired or voluntarily leaving. The departures followed allegations of misconduct involving prostitutes in Colombia, where members of the service were preparing security for a visit by Obama.

At the time, the president expressed confidence in Sullivan, who testified before a congressional panel that the scandal was an isolated incident.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, credited Sullivan yesterday for taking swift action and providing "forthright answers" as last year's controversy unfolded.

"This enhanced his credibility, allowing Congress and the American people to remain confident in his agency's ability to effectively do its job," Issa said in a statement released by his office.