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Obama names first female director of Secret Service

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Shown here is Julia Pierson, whom President Obama has appointed to lead the Secret Service.Secret Service

President Obama on Tuesday named agent Julia Pierson as the first female director of the Secret Service, marking a shift for an agency marred by last year's prostitution scandal. 

The appointment of Pierson to the top job in the agency that protects the president and other top officials could help to address concerns about the agency's culture. 

In a statement, Obama said Pierson "has consistently exemplified the spirit and dedication the men and women of the service demonstrate every day" during her 30 years in the service. 

"Julia is eminently qualified to lead the agency that not only safeguards Americans at major events and secures our financial system, but also protects our leaders and our first families, including my own. Julia has had an exemplary career, and I know these experiences will guide her as she takes on this new challenge to lead the impressive men and women of this important agency," he said. 

Pierson, who most recently served as Secret Service chief of staff, will take over the top job from Mark Sullivan, who announced his retirement last month. The agency faced intense criticism during Sullivan's tenure for the prostitution scandal during preparations for Obama's trip to Cartagena, Colombia, last year. 

The incident raised questions within the agency -- as well as at the White House and on Capitol Hill -- about the culture, particularly during foreign travel. In addition to protecting the president, the Secret Service also investigates financial crimes. 

Pierson does not need to be confirmed by the Senate. 

Thirteen Secret Service employees were caught up in last year's prostitution scandal. After a night of heavy partying in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, the employees brought women, including prostitutes, back to the hotel where they were staying. The incident became public after one agent refused to pay a prostitute and the pair argued about payment in a hotel hallway. 

Eight of the employees were forced out of the agency, three were cleared of serious misconduct and at least two have been fighting to get their jobs back. 

The incident took place ahead of Obama's arrival in Colombia and the service said the president's safety was never compromised. But news of the scandal broke during his trip, overshadowing the summit and embarrassing the U.S. delegation. 

The incident prompted Sullivan to issue a new code of conduct that banned employees from drinking within 10 hours of starting a shift or bringing foreign nationals back to their hotel rooms. 

Sullivan apologized for the incident last year during testimony before a Senate panel. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.