White House tours return next month on limited basis
WASHINGTON (AP) - Public tours of the White House, canceled earlier this year because of budget cuts, are resuming next month on a limited basis, officials said Friday in a welcome announcement for the many who found themselves locked out of "the people's house."
The self-guided tours of the ground floor, first floor and East Wing of the White House are to resume Nov. 5 and continue through Jan. 15. Tours will be allowed an average of three days a week, down from five, said the Secret Service, which is responsible for White House security.
Separately, the White House said its gardens and grounds will be open to the public on the weekend of Oct. 26-27.
The White House scrapped the tours after mandatory budget cuts took effect in March. The cuts, known as sequestration, affected many government departments and agencies, including the Secret Service, which then told the White House its options included cutting the tours or furloughing officers as a result.
Uniformed Secret Service officers are stationed in rooms along the tour to provide security and help tourists.
The Secret Service said Friday that the tours can resume at a reduced pace under a temporary funding bill President Barack Obama signed early Thursday for the budget year that began Oct. 1. The bill fully reopened the government after a 16-day partial shutdown brought on by a spending impasse between the Obama administration and Congress.
That funding runs out Jan. 15, same as the tours, which raises the possibility that the tours could be reduced or canceled again if Obama and lawmakers can't agree on spending for the remainder of the budget year.
"Last year's sequestration came midway through the fiscal year, and we were unable to adjust or reallocate remaining funding to continue tours while still ensuring enough funding remained to meet all operational needs and avoid furloughing our employees," said Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie. In light of the new fiscal year, Ogilvie said the agency was confident that the tours can operate at a reduced level while still meeting operational requirements.
Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, had needled the White House over its decision to cancel the tours. Boehner said alternative spending cuts helped keep the Capitol open to the public and he wished the White House had figured out how to do the same.
House Republicans also produced a video of stops on the Capitol tour that ended with this line: "This is your house. Tour it."
Members of the public who want free tickets for public tours of the White House should contact their representatives in Congress. The green, red and blue rooms, the State Dining Room and the East Room are among the stops on that tour.
Free tickets for the White House garden tours at the end of October will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis each morning of the tour at the visitor pavilion on the Ellipse near the White House. Visitors will be able to visit the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden, the South Lawn and first lady Michelle Obama's vegetable garden.