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Norton Wags a Finger at Secret Service After March

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:03 p.m. | D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton had a dream for Wednesday’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — shorter lines.

In a letter penned Thursday to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, Norton accuses the agency of a “massive failure to organize, prepare and coordinate to receive visitors.”

She holds the Secret Service responsible for the “misery” induced by security checkpoint backups at the general public entrance, including “huge lines and wait times, which left visitors, many of them elderly, frustrated and even ill and overcome by the heat and rain.”

“It is inexcusable that people had to wait on their feet for long hours in such hot and humid conditions, that a number of people fainted, that the D.C. Fire and EMS Department had to give medical assistance to over 100 people, and that some had to be hospitalized,” she wrote. “As a result of your poor planning and execution, many were unable to attend and participate in the event altogether.”

Daniel van Hoogstraten, spokesman for Norton, told HOH that the congresswoman heard the complaints “firsthand” from constituents who approached her during the ceremony on Wednesday and that people have continued to contact her about it.

Norton sympathizes with the “unusual challenge” the Secret Service confronted in trying to keep Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama safe, and then points to past inaugurations as positive proof that the agents can do better.

“I am, therefore, very disappointed that you failed to prevent an organizational breakdown that was entirely unnecessary. There is no doubt that the many failures could have been prevented. Security personnel belatedly added magnetometers and hand-held metal detector wands to speed up the long delays, showing that with routine, advanced planning, the misery your agency caused could have been avoided.”

After the seal of disapproval, Norton requests a meeting with the agency.

Update 6:03 p.m.

George Ogilvie, a public information officer for the Secret Service, emailed HOH a response to Norton’s allegations.

“Our goal for any protected event is to develop and implement, with other participating agencies, a security plan that will create a safe and secure environment for our protectees, other dignitaries, event participants, and the general public. During this event every effort was made to adapt with resources and personnel to accommodate the surge in attendees that arrived after [11:00 a.m.] for security screening. Throughout the entire event, we continued to process people to make sure that everyone that wanted to attend the event was able to attend — no one was denied access to the event.”

As for a meeting with Norton, Ogilvie writes: “We will conduct an after action review with the National Park Service and if areas for improvement are identified the Secret Service will take corrective action.”