- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

The U.S. Capitol will reopen its doors to the public tomorrow, the first time since the war in Iraq began last month.
Rep. Bob Ney, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Committee on House Administration, said yesterday that the decision to reopen the building to visitors comes after the lowering of the terrorist threat level and the winding down of the U.S.-led military action in Iraq.
"I am particularly pleased that we can make this announcement at the height of the busy spring tourist season," Mr. Ney said.
Only ticketed tours were suspended March 20, officials said. Member- and staff-led tours and scheduled visits for school groups continued.
The White House also resumed its tours this week to school, youth, military and veterans' groups.
Mr. Ney said he discussed the situation with Capitol Hill security officials, including the House sergeant at arms, and everyone believed it was safe to resume the tours.
The Capitol was closed to visitors after the September 11 attacks and for almost two months in the fall of 2001 after anthrax-laced letters were sent to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.
The west portion of the Capitol Terrace, closed since September 11, has not yet reopened to tourists for security reasons, a Capitol Police spokeswoman said.
Lawmakers who opposed the suspension of the tours welcomed yesterday's news, but urged security officials to find better ways to cope with threats and emergencies. Frequent shutdowns and tour suspensions could deter tourists, they said.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, has proposed the creation of a task force that would come up with more efficient approaches to keep the city open for tourists even during elevated terror alerts.
She said tourism has been affected, and the numbers would further drop if officials continued to react and sometimes overreact by shutting down public buildings.
"I have seen an increase in the number of crowds this year, and that tells me people are ready to come back," Mrs. Norton said. "We have an obligation to keep the city completely open for them."
The task force would be made up of members of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the chamber of commerce, and tourism and federal officials, she said.
Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, has the support of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
"Until all of the necessary parties get together and figure out how to get in front of emergencies, we will continue to jump to false alarms on terrorism," she said.

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