Ms. Kathleen McGinty
Council on Environmental Quality
722 Jackson Place NW
Washington, D.C. 20503
Dear Ms. McGinty:
The purpose of this letter is to explain the circumstances surrounding the decision to close to vehicular traffic a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue and other streets contiguous to the White House Complex perimeter, our efforts to contact the Council on Environmental Quality, and Treasury's compliance with applicable law subject to CEQ's oversight.
As you know, on May 19, 1995, the Secretary of the Treasury directed the Director, United States Secret Service, to take certain actions necessary to protect the President of the United States. The actions entailed the closing to public vehicular traffic the segment of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between Madison Place and 17th Street and State Place and the segment of South Executive Avenue that connects into State Place. A copy of the Secretary's May 19, 1995 Order to the Director, United States Secret Service, directing the closure of the subject streets is enclosed. That Order appears in the Wednesday, May 31, 1995 Federal Register, Vol. 60, No. 102, at 27882-27885.
I believe a quick summary of the critical events and facts leading to the Secretary's decision is both instructive to an understanding of the necessity for the closure and places in context Treasury's action relative to any potential legal requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). Following the September 12, 1994 crash of a Cessna 150L aircraft on the White House grounds, Secretary Lloyd Bentsen established a White House Security Review (the "WHSR") to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances leading to the crash. Shortly after the WHSR was established, several additional and disturbing security-related incidents also occurred at the White House, leading the WHSR to expand its review to a more comprehensive study of White House security generally, including the dangers posedd by explosives.
The WHSR completed its task andproduced a voluminous classified report. The WHSR recommended closing the subject streets to vehicular traffic in this report after determining that it could not "identify any alternative to prohibiting vehicular traffic
[on those streets] that would ensure the protection of the President and others in the White House Complex from explosive devices carried by vehicles near the perimeter." The Secretary accepted the recommendation of the WHSR and briefed the President, who concurred in the closings on the evening of May 19.
Attendant, of course, to the Department's efforts in the days and hours prior to Secretary Rubin's final decision was a strict concern for confidentiality in light of the findings of the WHSR. Accordingly, in taking this action the Department considered in advance its potential responsibilities under (NEPA). Without regard to whether or to what extent NEPA required any prior action because of the street closure, and despite the hour, the Department nonetheless endeavored to consult with CEQ ont he evening of May 19, 1995, shortly after the President had approved the street closure for the next morning. Unfortunately, Deputy General Counsel Neal Wolin, who left messages for you, and your General Counsel, Dinah Bear, both on May 19 and the morning of May 20, was unsuccessful at reaching CEQ prior to the closure. Of course, Mr. Wolin and Ms. Bear ultimately spoke by telephone on Manday, May 22, the first business day following the street closure, and subsequently Ms. Bear and Elisabeth Blaug met with Mr. Wolin and Treasury legal staff on Friday, May 26, to discuss in tetail the emergency street closings.
During the discussions of May 22 and May 26, the Department articulated generally the circumstances underscoring the emergency nature of the subject street closure, and its belief that it was unable, for security reasons, to initiate any potentially applicable NEPA procedures prior to completing the closure. Any delay in this emergency action, especially after announcing Secretary Rubin's intent to take the action, would have resulted in an unacceptably high risk of danger to the President, the First Family, and others in the White House Complex. The Department has also noted that the WHSR found that no feasible or acceptable alternative existed other than closure of the affected streets. In light of these exigent circumstances, the Department stated its conclusion, and CEQ has concurred, that the situation was an emergency as contemplated by 40 CFR § 1506.11 and that the provision was satisfied with respect to the specific actions taken on May 20th.
Consistent with our discussions, the Department acknowledges the role of the CEQ and all other relevant Federal and local agencies involved in the future planning related to the area impacted by the closures. With respect to these prospective, but as yet unclear plans, any required NEPA compliance will be incorporated into the planning and evaluation to be undertaken. Such planning will, of course, be coordinated with the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service's pending Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House. We look forward to CEQ's advice
and counsel as Treasury and the other relevant agencies proceed.