By Joyce Howard Price
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
February 10, 2002
The administration's point man for homeland security said yesterday that "some changes" in public access to the White House will be made in the "next couple of months."
Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, did not disclose details of those changes in an interview broadcast yesterday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields." But he said the Bush admnistration recognizes the frustration of schoolchildren, tourists and other Americans who have been kept out of the White House and other government buildings and monuments in Washington since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"I think we're very sensitive to that. We're very sensitive that we want to remain open, we want to remain accessible," said the former Pennsylvania governor, whose new position and office were created as a result of the September 11 attacks.
"We understand we have to be far more security conscious," Mr. Ridge said. "But I don't think, at the end of the day, we will be so security conscious that we will limit access to some of these extraordinary monuments that represent the freedoms of our country."
It already has been announced that the White House will reopen Friday for tours. But initially such tours will be limited to groups of schoolchildren. White House officials have not said publicly when tours for the general public will start again. But it is possible that could be the change Mr. Ridge anticipates in the next two months.
The homeland security chief made his comments after Robert Novak, the show's co-host, gave a bleak rundown of conditions that exist for visitors to the nation's capital, as well as for those who live and work in Washington. Mr. Novak pointed out that Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House, is not only closed to automobile traffic but "much of the time, it's closed to pedestrian traffic." That stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue has been closed since the deadly terrorist bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995.
Mr. Ridge said that changes in access to the White House are slated in a few months. Asked if he was suggesting Pennsylvania Avenue will be reopened to traffic in front of the White House, Mr. Ridge said, "There are several different plans to use that avenue for different ways. I mean they're talking potentially about a tunnel [under the closed portion of Pennsylvania Avenue or under E Street NW next to the White House]." That portion of E Street has been closed since September 11, and many are calling for it to reopen.