The decision to close the White House to visitors after the budget sequester took effect is a classic example of the “Washington Monument” strategy to fight budget cuts (similar to the “fireman first” strategy). The first person to try this was George Hartzog, director of the National Parks Service, who in 1969 closed the Washington Monument and other attractions in response to a cut in his budget from Congress. It didn’t work out so well for Hartzog, who got fired — but Congress did restore the funding.
In this case, though, the optics might not play as well in favor of the gameplayers. First, as ABC and the Weekly Standard report, the cuts that are supposedly prompting this as a necessity are a reduction of $84 million in a $1.66 billion Secret Service budget, representing just a 5.2% reduction in an annual budget that increased $150 million from FY2011’s $1.511 billion. Second, as it turns out, $84 million buys a lot of White House tours:
“Republicans accuse the White House of playing politics,” reports ABC. “But the White House says it is canceling the tours because sequester spending cuts have sliced $84 million out of the Secret Service’s $1.6 billion budget. And they are the ones who secure the tours. They wouldn’t say how much this saves, so, we did some math. Tours are open 20 hours a week and use 30 uniformed Secret Service officers at about $30 an hour. Total saved? Approximately $18,000 a week.”
Let’s go back to Barack Obama’s efforts to campaign to incite Sequester Hysteria in the last couple of weeks before the oh-so-devastating cuts hit. He traveled more than 5200 miles on Air Force One to a series of rallies intended to pressure House Republicans into calling off the sequester, rather than walk the one mile or so down Pennsylvania Avenue to tell Harry Reid to produce an alternative in the Senate. In last week’s column for The Fiscal Times, I did the math on just how much that cost taxpayers:
President Obama has traveled thousands of miles to sound the alarm over the cuts, which he now claims will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs — over 5200 miles in travel just over the last two weeks. With Air Force One’s cruising speed of 575 MPH, Obama has spent $1.6 million in the air alone fighting the spending cuts of the sequester.
That would have paid for 88 weeks of White House tours. The Secret Service budget increased $66 million from FY2011 to the sequestered level of FY2013. That pays for three thousand, six hundred and sixty-six weeks of White House tours, or over 70 years of tours. I’ll bet if the Secret Service cut back on its drinks-and-hookers expenses while overseas, we could get that to round up to an even 4,000 weeks, too.
George Hartzog got fired for his Washington Monument strategy. Someone at the White House deserves the same fate for this transparent and amateurish attempt to copy him.