THE DECISION to drop White House tours always had a whiff of what’s known as Washington Monument syndrome. The ham-handed tactic is employed when government is faced with budget cuts and officials go after the services that are most visible and appreciated by the public. It’s a kind of bureaucratic hostage-taking, so the pushback that the Obama administration has encountered is a proper comeuppance.
The popular tours have been suspended indefinitely as part of the response to the so-called sequester that went into effect March 1, mandating across-the-board spending cuts of $85 billion. The decision — coming just as Washington readies for the busy part of its tourist season, when cherry blossoms bloom and school groups on spring break descend on the nation’s capital — prompted an immediate outcry. Disappointed tourists took to Facebook and the airwaves to register their displeasure, while congressional Republicans and conservative commentators pounced. They suggested the move was an attempt to dramatize the effects of the sequester and to put pressure on GOP lawmakers, whose congressional offices incidentally field constituent requests for the free tour tickets.
Administration officials, The Post’s David Nakamura reported, said the decision was made by the Secret Service, which estimated that ending the tours would save $74,000 in weekly overtime costs. Why overtime is needed for the self-guided tours that are plotted out with plenty of advance notice is anybody’s guess. But even accepting the explanation by a Secret Service spokesman that the decision involved a broader reassignment of officers to minimize furloughs, is the $2 million that’s estimated to be saved through September really worth the price of shutting Americans out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?
Apparently the president doesn’t think so. In an interview Wednesday with ABC News, President Obama said he’s talking with the Secret Service about restoring some visits, citing in particular long-planned visits by school groups. “Can we make sure that kids, potentially, can still come to tour?” he asked. Well, he’s the one in the house, and he has the authority to provide the answer.