The District once again has been left out of the loop on street closures related to national security.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey recently complained, "We weren't part of any kind of planning. They just told us what they were going to do."
As members of the D.C. Council threatened to sue to stop the closures, Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer made matters worse by admitting that the closures were not a response to any specific threat -- a statement that contradicted earlier remarks by a Bush administration homeland security official.
This lack of coordination among federal agencies and the District is nothing new. The infamous "Tractor Man" incident last year, in which traffic in the region was brought to a standstill, showed the lack of agency cooperation and coordination.
It shouldn't be this way.
Following the "Tractor Man" incident, the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and attorneys from the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP interviewed key federal and District officials about the issue. In January they issued their report, "Balancing Security and Access in the Nation's Capital: Managing Federal Security-Related Street Closures and Traffic Restrictions in the District of Columbia."
This report examined the history of federal road closures and traffic restrictions in the District and the unintended consequences these closures have, not only in generally limiting access and mobility, but in impeding access for fire and emergency medical vehicles and in shutting down evacuation routes.
The report said it was critical that local and federal governments formalize an agreement setting out procedures for street closures, traffic restrictions and other security-related measures in the District. Apparently, such an agreement is, at long last, in the works.
The District has important expertise to bring to this issue, having had vast experience with safety and transportation issues. Its full participation in this planning will help ensure that the best national security decisions are made -- ones that protect national security while producing the least number of unintended consequences for those who live in, work in or visit the nation's capital.
An example of the benefits such coordination can bring is the Capitol Police's response to security threats on the Hill following Sept. 11, 2001. The Capitol Police first proposed closing both Constitution and Independence avenues north and south of the Capitol to all public vehicular traffic. But after consulting a D.C.-federal task force, police instead agreed that, in coordination with the District's traffic-monitoring programs, officers would be on the alert for suspicious trucks or other vehicles and stop them at a safe distance from potential targets. The major thoroughfares on Capitol Hill remained open to drivers, and the Capitol Police still achieved the level of security they sought. This is how the process should work.
No doubt national security concerns will require further disruption of normal traffic flow in the District. But as the Sept. 11 commission reported, to address our national security concerns effectively, we must do it through a "unity of effort" across all governmental agencies. It's time to start doing that at the local level here in the District.
-- Walter Smith
and Thorn Pozen
are, respectively, executive director of the DC Appleseed Center and an attorney at the firm of Arnold & Porter LLP.