By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
A report released by a congressional committee yesterday found that "flaws and shortcomings in the planning process" contributed to chaotic conditions around the U.S. Capitol for people trying to attend President Obama's inauguration in January.
Thousands of people complained that they were stuck in slow-moving lines or tightly packed crowds outside entrance gates to the Capitol area, causing them to miss the ceremony even though they had tickets.
An executive summary of the report said the main cause of the breakdown was a flood of people, many without the proper tickets, who overwhelmed the entrance gates.
The document also pointed to insufficient signs, poor coordination among law enforcement agencies and a lack of personnel to keep order and provide information to visitors. Officials at the multi-agency command center were not aware of the problems in some ticket lines, it said.
The report was drawn up for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies by several law enforcement agencies that worked on the event, led by the Secret Service. Only an eight-page executive summary was released because the full report contained sensitive security information, according to the committee.
The summary recommended setting up a high-level committee to oversee planning and improve coordination for the next inauguration and opening the ticket gates earlier. It called for turning over responsibility for giving directions and prescreening ticket-holders to the congressional and presidential inaugural committees, which could provide volunteers or hire staff for such tasks.
It also suggested that law enforcement officials monitor Twitter and Facebook to keep on top of developing problems.
Marisa McNee and David Meyer, two Democratic political consultants who founded a Facebook site focused on the inaugural problems, said in a statement that the summary "is appreciated, but insufficient given the breach of public safety involved."
The pair acknowledged the concerns about releasing the full report, but said: "The situation calls for, at minimum, a full explanation of what went wrong."
Their Facebook site, Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, has more than 6,000 members. It refers to a throng of holders of purple tickets who were trapped in the Third Street tunnel.
Contrary to eyewitness accounts, the report found that entrances to the areas designated for blue and purple ticket-holders were not closed by the crush of spectators, with the exception of a brief shutdown of the purple gate while officers removed bike-rack fencing that had been pushed by the surging crowd.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), head of the congressional inaugural committee, said the report provided "a good assessment of both the successes and deficiencies of the planning for 2009."
But she questioned the report's conclusion that there was a sufficient number of screeners and magnetometers to handle the crowd. "I believe this should be examined further in making preparations for the next inaugural," she said in a statement.
About 1.8 million people attended the inauguration, the biggest crowd for an event ever in Washington, according to federal and local officials.