As a teenager, David Smith ’98 ’00MPA aspired to become either a federal law-enforcement professional or a stand-up comedian.
And although his ability to crack a good joke is evident, Smith recently marked 20 years of service with the United States Secret Service with the transition to a new role. In March, he was named the 28th assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service Office of Investigations, where he leads the agency’s global investigative mission.
For Smith, his involvement with the organization began during his time at UCF, when Bernard McCarthy — former chair of the Department of Criminal Justice — introduced him to the idea of becoming a U.S. Secret Service agent. UCF’s National Center for Forensic Science, is a preferred partner for the U.S. Secret Service, working with the organization for training classes.
“Dr. McCarthy had a friend in the U.S. Secret Service’s Orlando field office, and he brought it up to me at one point when I was a graduate assistant,” Smith says. “He gave me some additional context on the job opportunity and career with the Secret Service, and the rest is history.”
Smith began his career with the U.S. Secret Service in 2001 as a special agent assigned to the San Francisco field office, and he went on to serve on the Presidential Protective Division and in the special projects section of the Office of Investigations.
In 2014, he was promoted to assistant to the special agent in charge of the Los Angeles field office, where he directed protective visits and criminal investigations. At the same time, he was selected as a shift leader for the candidate nominee operation section in the Dignitary Protective Division, a role in which he helped oversee and coordinate the protection of a presidential candidate during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Since then, Smith has served in various other roles and supervisory capacities at U.S. Secret Service headquarters. He credits his time in both UCF’s criminal justice program and Master of Public Administration program with helping prepare him for a career as a public servant, especially at the federal level.
“Throughout the programs that I was a part of, there was an undeniable undertone and atmosphere of public servitude that resonated throughout the instruction, and with the instructors and professors,” he says. “There was never any differentiation or separation from you being a public servant and being a student in those programs.”
In his current role, Smith is responsible for overseeing all of the U.S. Secret Service’s 161 offices, which work together to accomplish the organization’s mission of protection the nation’s financial critical infrastructure. That includes protecting the integrity of our currency and investigating crimes against the U.S. financial system.
It’s a mission that requires evolving along with technology and society, Smith says. As dominant forms of currency transitioned over the years from bills and coins to plastic cards and the rise of digital currency, the U.S. Secret Service must be prepared to handle such shifts to protect Americans and their finances.
“We have to be nimble enough to adjust and evolve so that we can be in the know and protect people as they continue to work with the financial institutions and the digital currency exchanges,” Smith says. “We’re learning in real time, as well, but we have to know the craft in order to protect Americans.”
Although Smith no longer directly works cases, he finds the most rewarding part of his role these days in being an advocate for those who do, as well as recognizing and amplifying cutting-edge investigative work being done by agents and analysts.
“In general, one of the most rewarding pieces of being in a position like this is influencing the future by positioning worthy candidates,” he says. “You get to have some influence over who the next generation of leaders are. That part is rewarding because you do get to help shape the organization for both the present and future.”