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White House resumes public tours with scaled-back schedule

October 18, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey
  • The White House, seen from the South Lawn in Washington, D.C.
The White House, seen from the South Lawn in Washington, D.C. (Susan Walsh / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- The White House is resuming public tours on a limited schedule after stopping the popular tourist draw when budget cuts hit federal agencies in March.

A scaled-back schedule of tours will begin Nov. 5, the White House said in a statement. Member of Congress, who request tickets on behalf of constituents, were also notified of the decision Friday.

The tours through the East Wing and the executive residence were stopped in March, when across-the-board spending cuts forced federal agencies to immediately slash a total of $85 billion from the budgets. The Secret Service, which staffs the tours with officers, said the reductions had forced it to focus its funding on other operations.

The tours became a political football in the heated budget fight between the White House and Republicans on the Hill. Some Republicans accused the White House of intentionally cutting back on popular services in order to build pressure on Republicans to ease the cuts. The White House denied the accusations.

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Although the budget cuts have not been reversed, a Secret Service spokesman said Friday that the new fiscal year allowed the agency to reallocate its resources.

“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,”  spokesman Robert Novy said. “In light of the new fiscal year, the Secret Service is confident that through the [current spending bill] tours can operate on a limited schedule while still meeting operational requirements.”

Like most government operations, the continuation of the tours depends on whether Congress approves a long-term spending bill. A bill President Obama signed Thursday funds the government through Jan. 15, opening a window for lawmakers to negotiate a broader budget deal. If another spending bill isn’t approved before then, the Secret Service will revisit the question of whether it needs to suspend the tours to focus money on “mission critical operations,” said the Secret Service official, who would not be named discussing details.

In the near-term, the White House tours will available about three days a week, rather than the five days a week before the budget cuts, the official said.

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