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Capitol Tours Resume; Background Checks Dropped

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) announced Wednesday that all public tours of the Capitol will resume on Friday.

Unscheduled, or walk-up tours, were suspended indefinitely March 21 for security reasons, although staff-led and pre-arranged group tours were not affected.

A House official said instant background checks instituted in mid-March for visitors to the House and Senate galleries have also ceased. The background checks process was in place for only a handful of days before being dropped because of the time constraints involved. The board, however, cautioned that it could re-institute the process in the future.

Visitors to the galleries, who must have a signed pass from a Member, had been screened using the National Criminal Information Center, a database maintained by the FBI that includes information from federal, state, local and foreign law-enforcement agencies, as well as courts. The instant check, conducted in the visitor screening facilities, occurred as visitors waited to pass through the metal-detector and X-ray portion of the security process.

“Our security officials and our police have been working day and night to ensure the Capitol complex is kept secure, and Members, staff, and visitors are kept safe. Now, with an end to hostilities in Iraq, a lowered threat level, and this strong security team in place, we are fully reopening the doors to the people’s House and resuming all public tours,” Ney said. “I am particularly pleased that we can make this announcement at the height of the busy spring tourist season.”

In related news, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is proposing a Joint Task Force on Tourism, comprising business leaders and federal and city officials, which would focus on preserving and enhancing tourism in the District. Norton said the proposal is supported by Mayor Anthony Williams (D).

“I appreciate that Capitol officials here have kept their word and reverted to a normal schedule soon following the war,” Norton said in a written statement. “However we can and must find better ways to cope with alerts and emergencies than curtailments and shut downs.”

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