Monday, June 29, 2009

So you want to visit the White House

There are some people out there who think that a Congressman has to invite you to visit the White House. How silly. Absolutely ridiculous. There are even Americans who think this.

Prior to 9-11, visiting the White House was easy. You got in line and went in and toured the White House (except on Sundays and Mondays.) One could write one's Congressman to get onto the extra special tour (more rooms), but the regular tour required little effort except to get in line outside the White House and wait. At one time, the White House was the only home of a head of state opened to the public. Both types of tours were free.
But September 11, 2001 changed every thing. After all, the White House was one of the targets. The White House eventually reopened after but to new rules. The tours remain free, but now you contact your congressman or senator to get the ticket. They are not inviting you. However, one must be in a group of ten or more, and you must go through your congressman or senator.

Congressmen and Senators are not inviting you. You are asking for the tickets, plain and simple, and there are certain security procedures to go through as well. There is a catch, however. You can apply for the tickets (with a group or be added to a group), but there is no guarantee that you will be able to get a ticket. Congressmen in the D.C., area get more requests from their constituents to visit the White House, but only a certain number of people can tour the White House each day. Competition is stiff. Since March, my Congress has had eight approvals and 350 denials for tickets. (The White House Visitors' Center makes the final decision.)

International visitor must be wondering how they can see the President's House. Are foreigners banned from visiting? Some perhaps, but if you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., and want to see the White House, you should contact your country's embassy for more information.


Michelle said...

or you can just have friends in the secret service who put your name on the list. that's how i got me, my family, and my friends in. quite simple... once they have your name, they do the checks, and in you go.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Marlene, for straightening us out. Obviously invitation is the wrong word, but one does need to go through a Congress person. :-)

Marlene Eilers Koenig said...

and the Congressman or Senator's office must then deal with the White House Visitors Center - the tickets do not come from the Congressman.

Dag T. Hoelseth said...

When I talked with one person at the information desk at the visitors center this April, I got the impression that I could have got a ticket from them directly, but there were no tours that particular day anyway. I visited the White House already in 1999, so it was no big deal for me. My wife, however, has to wait until the next opportunity arises. DTH

Marlene Eilers Koenig said...

Wrong impression, Dag. The WHVC does not dispense tickets on the same day. A request takes about 6 months to go through the channels and security clearance check. You would have need to give your passport identification, etc. Individuals do not get tickets. You have to be in a group. You do not even get to pick the day if your group is approved.
Perhaps now that Obama is president, things might change back.
From the WHVC site:

Public tours of the White House are available for groups of 10 or more people. Requests must be submitted through one's Member of Congress and are accepted up to six months in advance. These self-guided tours are available from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Fridays, and 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturdays (excluding federal holidays). Tour hours will be extended when possible based on the official White House schedule. Tours are scheduled on a first come, first served basis. We encourage you to submit your request as early as possible since a limited number of tours are available. All White House tours are free of charge. For the most current tour information, please call the 24-hour line at 202-456-7041. Please note that White House tours may be subject to last minute cancellation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all this useful information Marlene.

When I visited Washington in May 1989, I was very pleased just to be able to driven past the "White House". I think that it was "school holidays" at that time, so never expected to be actually admitted to the "White House".

I had a very nice time in Washington. People were so kind, just as they were in New York City and Atlanta.


Marlene Eilers Koenig said...

In 1989, all you needed to do was get in line outside the White House for a tour - free - and just a metal detector and a bag checker.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed Marlene. In retrospect I realize that it would have been very easy from a security point of view to visit the White House. I was rather unfortunate that as it was school holidays at the time and that I had a limited amout of time in Washington. I was advised not to even to try to get there, but saw all the rest of Washington that I wanted to see.

Perhaps. it was unfortunate that I had such a good time in New York City (stayed up all night and day) and before that in so many places such as Boston and the entire state of Maine. I really enjoyed Boston and its outskirts due to the constitutional history and then Maine, because it is such a rugged beautiful place like the areas around Perth in Australia, where I was born, grew up and have returned to.

I had a wonderful time in Georgia and South Carolina over a week of travelling north from Jeckyll Island to Charleston via Savannah before the long flight back home from Charleston, changing in Atlanta, changing in Chicago, changing in Los Angeles, changing in Tahiti, changing in Auckland NZ and then arriving home.

I was overwhelmed by the kindness of US people to me. Such a wonderful memory for me. It does not seem long ago, but it was 20 years ago.