Fenced out

New Se­cret Ser­vice re­stric­tions push vis­i­tors even far­ther back from the Peo­ple’s House.

The Washington Post - - WASHINGTON FORUM -

SHUT IT down and close it up. That seems to be the de­fault re­ac­tion of the Se­cret Ser­vice to any prob­lem or fail­ing — in­clud­ing its own — in pro­tect­ing Wash­ing­ton build­ings. The bunker men­tal­ity has turned the na­tion’s cap­i­tal into a place of un­sightly bol­lards, bar­ri­ers and guard booths. This week it struck again. The loss this time is not just of ac­cess to a side­walk that of­fered a glo­ri­ous view of the White House but fur­ther ero­sion of the open­ness that is — or should be — a hall­mark of Amer­i­can democ­racy.

As of 11 p.m. Wed­nes­day, by de­cree of the Se­cret Ser­vice, mem­bers of the pub­lic were barred from the side­walks along the south fence of the White House be­tween West Ex­ec­u­tive Av­enue and East Ex­ec­u­tive Av­enue. Since 2015 sim­i­lar re­stric­tions had been in place overnight (be­tween 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.), but dur­ing the day Wash­ing­to­ni­ans and vis­i­tors could still en­joy a clas­sic view. The van­tage point was hardly close to the White House, but it was a fa­vorite spot for thou­sands of vis­i­tors to take a pic­ture and hope for a glimpse of some­one fa­mous or pow­er­ful on the dis­tinc­tive por­tico.

A spokes­woman for the Se­cret Ser­vice framed the change as lim­ited; there are no new bar­ri­ers or fences, Cathy Mil­hoan told us, and vis­i­tors can still get that iconic view of the White House from the other side of the street. Of course, they are now pushed far­ther back and sep­a­rated by three ad­di­tional fences; good luck get­ting a pic­ture with­out signs warn­ing “Re­stricted Area. Do Not En­ter.” And this is just the lat­est in a suc­ces­sion of clos­ings that have turned parks into park­ing lots for White House staff, walled off walk­ways and pushed Amer­i­cans steadily far­ther from the build­ings that be­long to them.

The Se­cret Ser­vice faces enor­mous chal­lenges to pro­tect the na­tion’s lead­ers and his­toric struc­tures in dif­fi­cult times. But for all the talk about a care­ful bal­anc­ing be­tween open­ness and se­cu­rity, who speaks for open­ness each time one of th­ese in­ter­nal de­bates takes place? Fear and con­ve­nience seem to win out. It also seems that new cur­tail­ments on the pub­lic fol­low in­stances in which the Se­cret Ser­vice is em­bar­rassed by se­cu­rity lapses such as last month’s in­ci­dent in which a man scaled the fence and roamed un­de­tected for nearly 17 min­utes while Pres­i­dent Trump was inside the White House.

A new, taller — and pre­sum­ably harder-to-scale — fence is in the works for the White House. We sup­port that project. Logic might sug­gest that, once it is in place, some ac­cess might be re­stored for the pub­lic. But don’t count on that. Once put in place, se­cu­rity mea­sures gen­er­ally stay for­ever. Just ask the com­muters who used to drive on E Street or the busi­nesses that closed when side streets were shut down.

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