Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Worst. Inauguration. Ever. Part II: The Reckoning?

My proper purple ticket

Perhaps you are one of the seven or eight people out there in the web-o-sphere that didn’t read of my less than happy happy joy joy inauguration day experience, or hear about the purple tunnel of doom, or purple-gate, or the bad side of crowds, in general. Well, have no fear, a congressional committee is here:

A report released by a congressional committee yesterday found that "flaws and shortcomings in the planning process" contributed to chaotic conditions around the U.S. Capitol for people trying to attend President Obama's inauguration in January.

Thousands of people complained that they were stuck in slow-moving lines or tightly packed crowds outside entrance gates to the Capitol area, causing them to miss the ceremony even though they had tickets.

An executive summary of the report said the main cause of the breakdown was a flood of people, many without the proper tickets, who overwhelmed the entrance gates.

The document also pointed to insufficient signs, poor coordination among law enforcement agencies and a lack of personnel to keep order and provide information to visitors. Officials at the multi-agency command center were not aware of the problems in some ticket lines, it said.

The report was drawn up for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies by several law enforcement agencies that worked on the event, led by the Secret Service. Only an eight-page executive summary was released because the full report contained sensitive security information, according to the committee.

The main cause of there being too many people for them to deal with was that there were too many people?

. . . no one could have possibly foreseen. . .

Maybe the actual report reads differently, but this summary basically puts everything in the passive voice. Memo to committee: Deficiencies didn't just “happen.” Who was responsible for not assigning personnel to direct the lines? Who made the decision to wait until after 8am to open the gates? (Note: 8am is the official story; I believe they opened later—more like 9am.) Who drew up the plan that had security at the parade four cops deep six hours before anyone was there while having zero police presence with the crowds outside the purple gate?

But, OK, the past is the past; we want to look forward—that’s what all the hip kids are doing—how can we turn the page?

The summary recommended setting up a high-level committee to oversee planning and improve coordination for the next inauguration and opening the ticket gates earlier. It called for turning over responsibility for giving directions and prescreening ticket-holders to the congressional and presidential inaugural committees, which could provide volunteers or hire staff for such tasks.

It also suggested that law enforcement officials monitor Twitter and Facebook to keep on top of developing problems.

We need a high-level commission to replace what exactly? Seriously, again, who was responsible for the shortcomings this last time? Will this commission replace Senator Feinstein’s committee? Will it have authority over the DC police? (I can’t wait to get my tickets for that turf war.) Dare I say, “you have to read the page before you turn the page?” Moving on. . . .

And, can you just see four years from now the DC police—or this commission—monitoring Twitter and Facebook, but by that point in history, we are all doing something completely different? I have a better idea: have people monitoring the situation by being there!

As to this "flood of people. . . not having proper tickets," think this one through. . . . Beyond my eyewitness view that everyone around me had purple tickets--we were waving them in the air and chanting, "we have tickets," after all—how many people who thought they were going to sneak into the section would have put themselves through this hour after hour? I would have had much better luck if I had given up my purported purple place of privilege and just hoofed down to the mall. Some I met actually did give up and do just that. If you were thinking that the place I was in was a shortcut to a better view, you would have been disabused of that notion within the first couple of the many couples of hours that most of us were there.

As predicted within hours of the original debacle, this investigation started with a faulty set of premises—that no one could have expected the large turnout and that only a few thousand ticket-holders were inconvenienced—and so it came to a faulty set of conclusions. (Jason Linkins and the gang at HufPo did a better job of assessing the scene within two days of the inauguration.) By not acknowledging the realities of the day, and by not asking who was responsible for the bad planning and decision-making, DiFi and friends have done little more than hand the problem off to the next Congress. . . and the next 10-20,000 poor bastards who will end inauguration day 2013 holding on to unused tickets and unpleasant memories.

Worst. Inauguration investigation. Ever.

* * *

Follow-up/update: I see the The Hill has also posted a story on this report (h/t Peterr). Though both the Washington Post (above) and The Hill were working from the same executive summary, the latter story has a very different emphasis from the headline—“Report: Poor communication led to inaugural snafu”—on down:

An insufficient number of law enforcement officers and the absence of a loudspeaker system led to thousands of ticket-wielding spectators being trapped in a tunnel as officials refused them entry for President Obama’s inauguration.

The problem wasn’t the situation; it was the response to the situation. Got that? Not a subtle difference.

The Hill also provides a link to the executive summary itself (warning: PDF). The ES is more comprehensive than either news article, and it does make a little clearer whom it recommends might be in charge next time (I still shudder at the thought of that turf war), but it maintains the passive voice I criticize above. The “snafu” was poor organization’s fault, it was a lack of coordination’s fault, a lack of loudspeakers’ fault, too many people’s fault—but it was no particular person’s fault.

However, they did get one thing right:

Both Feinstein and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), recognized that the study may not satisfy the thousands of people who were barred entrance.

Also, I have to link to this enormous overhead picture (third one down when you scroll), which shows that 20 minutes after the inaugural ceremony began, there is still plenty of room in one of the purple sections. To me, that says the problem is not that there were too many purple tickets handed out—the problem lay in someone’s lack of ability to get thousands with legitimate tickets from outside the gates, through the entry point (I say point, and not points, because, despite what DC police claimed, I saw with my own eyes that the second gate was not open), through the magnetometers, and into the open area. That takes planning, and it takes personnel, sure, but it is hardly an original problem—someone could have possibly foreseen. . . .

(cross-posted on Firedoglake)

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