The U.S. Secret Service, now part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has issued its guidelines containing restrictions for people who plan to attend the January 20, 2009 Inauguration of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States and for those who wish to watch or protest at the subsequent Inaugural Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. The Secret Service has posted an abbreviated version of its restrictions on its official Inaugural web page, but yesterday I received a fax copy of a longer official letter sent by Special Agent David J. O’Connor to Peggy O’Dell, National Capital Regional Director of the National Park Service, via the Park Programs Office.
This letter was sent by the Secret Service on December 4, 2008 and received by the National Park Service on December 10, 2008, which is an amusing indication of the inefficiencies of our federal government imposed by security procedures; the source and destination are in the same city, just 2.6 miles apart from one another. The Secret Service could have sent this public message instantly by e-mail, but no, it sent it by long-travelling paper. I know this because when the Park Service asked to fax the message to me, I asked if they could e-mail it instead. “Oh, no, we don’t have any electronic copy of the text,” the NPS representative said with a sigh. “It’s all just on paper, so I have to fax it to you.”
In a similar vein, the National Park Service indicates in its cover letter for the fax that “this letter is being provided to all applicants and is posted at the Division of Park Programs bulletin board.” I assumed that by this the Park Service referred to an online Park Programs bulletin board, but such an online bulletin board does not appear to exist, at least publicly. A quick call to the Park Service National Capital Region office cleared things up: the ever-helpful Sheila answered my question about where the bulletin board was by answering that “we are at 1100 Ohio Drive SW here in Washington, DC.” “So the letter is literally posted on a physical bulletin board?” I asked. The reply: “Yes, that is in our office, right as you come in.” Shades of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
To save you the trouble of planning an advance trip to 1100 Ohio Drive SW, Washington DC in order to find the full set of restrictions imposed on Inauguration-goers, I’m happy to post the text of the Secret Service letter right here.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE
WASHINGTON, DC 20223
December 4, 2008
Peggy O’Dell, Regional Director
National Capital Region, National Park Service
11000 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20242
Dear Ms. O’Dell:
Please be advised that the United States Secret Service (Secret Service) is seeking to exclude the following items at checkpoints along the Inauguration parade route on January 20, 2009:
* Weapons of any kind
* Supports for signs and placards
* Thermal or glass containers
* Bags exceeding size restrictions
* Laser pointers
* Animals other than helper/guide dogs
* Any other items determined to be potential safety hazards
With respect to signs and placards, the Secret Service would ask that these items be limited to items made of cardboard, poster board or cloth and have dimensions no greater than three feet in width, twenty feet in length and one-quarter inch in thickness. As noted above, we are asking that supports for signs and placards be prohibited as these items may be used as a means of concealing weapons or as weapons themselves.
Additionally, the prohibition on structures includes props, folding chairs, bicycles, displays such as puppets, paper mache objects, coffins, crates, crosses, theaters, cages and statues. It does not include signs, portable bullhorns, cell phones, baby carriages, baby strollers, wheelchairs and other devices for the handicapped in use by handicapped persons. These restrictions are similar to the restrictions on the size, physical composition and use of signs, placards and structures on the White House sidewalk set forth in 36 CFR 7.96(g)(5) and the items prohibited by the Capitol Police in the area around the Capitol during the Inauguration events. The limitation on the size of bags will be communicated to the public at the checkpoints with signs outlining the appropriate size. Please be advised that we anticipate permitting bags no larger than 8 inches by 6 inches.
The Secret Service has determined that each of the above listed items could potentially be used as a weapon or in such a manner as to compromise public safety or the safety of Secret Service protectees. Accordingly, we would ask that the National Park Service to impose the restrictions listed above and subsequently communicate this information to permit holders. Finally, please be advised that, as with every component of the security plan for the Inaugural parade, the list of prohibited items is subject to change based on law enforcement assessments of potential threats to public safety and the safety of Secret Service protectees.
David J. O’Connor
Special Agent in Charge
Dignitary Protective Division
Curses! I had really planned on bringing my cage along.