- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

How long must Americans drive in crazy circles downtown in their own capital because Pennsylvania Avenue is barricaded, cordoning off the president as though he was the ruling potentate of a banana republic?

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which Congress created nearly 50 years ago to establish comprehensive development strategies for the nation's capital may get to the answer. The commission is leading the way on two important projects, one focusing on the RFK Stadium-National Guard Armory complex and a proposal to demolish it to reshape it with cultural and revenue-generating attractions. The other project, which could be accomplished immediately, is to raze the barricades so that Americans can drive past their White House once more. President Bush and his party promised to do that during the campaign, and we can't wait for delivery on the promise.

The editors of this newspaper asked Vice President Dick Cheney about this the other day at lunch, and his reply was a little less than the straightforward language we're accustomed to hearing from him. His answer sounded faintly like bureaucratic jargon he might have picked up from a Secret Service memo. "Well," he said, "I think the judgment needs to be made based upon a realistic assessment of whether or not there is a threat. I don't think we would want to keep the avenue closed unless we believed there was a security threat. That assessment's got to be made by professionals … if there is in fact a security threat, it would be probably silly to re-open the avenue."

We couldn't agree more. But the "professionals" here are the officers of the Secret Service, who no doubt mean well, who are fiercely committed to keeping their turf literal turf this time intact no matter what. Never in the history of government has a government agency cheerfully relinquished turf. The security agencies of other governments under greater threat of terrorists elsewhere protect their heads of state with a much more discreet show of force and authority. What the president should do, it seems to us, is to take the initiative himself to tell the Secret Service what he wants and assign them the task of making it work, rather than have the Secret Service instructing the president.

The Pennsylvania Avenue task force will take about four months to complete its proposal to Mr. Bush. Bill Clinton barricaded the avenue in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. "To me it's almost undemocratic for [White House] security to be so obvious," says Richard L. Friedman, the chairman of the task force. "If just security people made decisions they'd probably put a moat around the city."

The commission is on the right track in tearing down other impediments to traffic, including those along the banks of the Anacostia River near such long-established neighborhoods as River Terrace and Kingman Park. Abandoned by the Washington Redskins, RFK Stadium is a money-maker no more. Although the occasional big-tent event, professional soccer match and the circus draw big crowds, the revenues needed to justify such a huge facility simply aren't streaming in. Adjacent land, such as Children's Island, remains an eyesore. Similarly, the future of three other city-owned institutions, D.C. General Hospital, D.C. Jail and a drug-treatment facility, remain in question.

The panel's initiative, "Extending the Legacy," proposes reviving those waterfront properties along the Anacostia River and wedged between Interstate 295 and the Anacostia Freeway.

Back to Pennsylvania Avenue. Barricades are hard to see from the back seat of a limousine, with regiments of police cruisers clearing the way. But the White House, as President Bush noted during his successful campaign, belongs to all Americans. Nobody should be allowed to make a bunker of it. America is a better country than that.


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