Obama wants school groups to get White House tours

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 3:01pm

Full public tours of the White House don't appear to be coming back any time soon, but President Obama says he wants to figure out a way certain school groups can still gain access to the famous address.

In an interview with ABC, Obama said the unpopular move to suspend the tours in the wake of automatic spending cuts "was not- a decision that went up to the White House." Still, Obama said he wants to find a way partial tours can resume.

"What I'm asking them is are there ways, for example, for us to accommodate school groups- you know, who may have traveled here with some bake sales," Obama said in the interview that aired Wednesday. "Can we make sure that- kids, potentially, can still come to tour?"

The decision to suspend the tours came days after Washington failed to come up with a plan to avert $85 billion in forced spending cuts, known as sequestration.

The U.S. Secret Service said that the plan to cut tours will help the agency save $74,000 per week -- or $2 million in the next seven months. That's how much it costs to pay 37 uniformed officers $50 an hour for 40 hours a week to secure the tour's route through the East Wing.

A White House spokesman said last week that this was just the first consequence from the automatic cuts. And White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that more White House employees will face pay cuts and furloughs.

Some Republicans, however, argue the move is unnecessary and was simply a political ploy aimed to draw attention to the cuts. Some have called on the president to give up golf, not the White House tours, and real estate titan Donald Trump, a vocal critic of the president, even offered to pay for the tours through the remainder of the fiscal year (though it's highly unlikely private funding would be permitted for a Secret Service function).

Following up on the president's comments in the interview, a White House official said the decision to cancel the tours was made to prevent more furloughs of Secret Service employees.

"We greatly regret the inconvenience and disappointment these cancellations have caused," the official said. "While we are not able to reconsider the overall cancellation policy, the White House continues to assess the situation and looking to see if a particular accommodation can be made for student and other large groups who had previously scheduled reserved tour."

In the interview Wednesday, Obama said he understood the decision was made to avoid increased furloughs of Secret Service employees.

"What the Secret Service explained to us was that they're going to have to furlough some folks. What furloughs mean is people lose a day of work and a day of pay, and, you know, the question for them is, you know, how deeply do they have to furlough their staff? And is it worth it to make sure that we got White House tours if it means you got a whole bunch of families depending on a paycheck who are suddenly seeing a 5% or 10% reduction in their pay," Obama said.

The Secret Service had no comment on the president's statements.


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