District Digest: This land is your land, if you’ve got cash
White House reopens and D.C. adjusts after attacks
The Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt for suspected brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev created heightened security throughout the Northeast. Police removed the trashcans on Capitol Hill and DPS even upped security on campus. In a move described as “an abundance of caution” the White House was closed, but reopened yesterday.
Closing down the White House to all visitors may have been an over-precaution as a response to a bombing in Boston, but that was not the only attack last week. Letters containing the incredibly deadly toxin ricin were mailed to President Barack Obama and Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
Both letters were successfully stopped by screening procedures, which have been in place since the anthrax attacks on Congress in 2001. The success of these safety measures has Capitol security brimming with confidence. “I have confidence in our procedures, our personnel, the United States Capitol Police response personnel, the strength and weaknesses of field testing and the need for laboratory confirmation,” said head of Senate security Terrance Gainer, according to the Post.
Law enforcement was not faultless during this episode, however. The wrong man in Mississippi was charged for sending the ricin.
The week proved to be too much for some writers.
Obama looks to trim down federal real estate holdings
After failing to do so during his first term, President Obama is now trying to begin a long process that will leave the federal government with a much tighter, less expensive real estate portfolio. Last week, Obama called for $40 million to be dedicated to an independent panel, which will evaluate the federal government’s properties.
In 2011, the Office of Management and Budget conducted a preliminary assessment and concluded that at least 12,200 properties easily could be sold, with 500,000 square feet of property in the D.C. area, according to the Washington Business Journal.
The hope is that unnecessary land will be identified and sold off, but Congress has struggled to come up with what it sees as a reasonable standard for selling land. Last year, the House and Senate each passed bills to solve the issue, but, true to their form, the two branches of Congress could not reach an agreement.
The biggest obstacles to progress remain government agencies not willing to part with their own properties and Congressmen avoiding potential political backlash from property closures in their own areas of the country.
Sequester hits the Smithsonian
The planned federal budget cuts comprising the sequester have now taken a toll on the Smithsonian Institution’s ability to manage all of its space and exhibits. The sequester took $41 million of the Smithsonian’s $996 million appropriation for 2013.
The worst effect of the lost funding will be the postponement or cancellation of exhibits in the 19 Smithsonian buildings.
According to DCist, the worst loss is the amount of money the Smithsonian could devote towards paying security guards. Without enough guards to watch the spaces, the Smithsonian cannot open all it has to offer. “We cannot keep every gallery or exhibition in every museum open daily without sufficient security,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough in a prepared statement to the House Oversight Committee. “Therefore, when visitors come to an art museum, they may find a sign saying that the third-floor galleries are closed to the public that day, for example.”
The cuts go beyond preventing public access to the Smithsonian, however. Many projects that are necessary for the improvement and, in some cases, preservation of the Smithsonian now cannot proceed. Some of the Smithsonian’s most preservation efforts will be affected. “We are the guardians of Morse’s telegraph; Edison’s light bulb; the Salk vaccine … All of these icons require strict environmental controls that have to be maintained 24/7 and that are supported by top professionals,” Clough said.
Photo: Chris Devers via Flickr