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White House Tries To Keep Fence Jumpers At Bay With ... Another Fence


After the fence jumper managed to make his way into the White House, one of the first things the Secret Service did was to put up another fence, sort of. It's actually a line of bike racks strung together. It keeps the public a few feet farther back and, in theory, it gives agents more time to respond to would-be intruders. Critics say the new barrier is an eyesore that intrudes on the public space while doing little to improve security. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The bike rack barrier is marked with bright yellow sign warning police line, do not cross. It creates a sort of no-man's land between the public sidewalk and the ornate wrought iron fence that's long surrounded the White House. Steven Brown who's visiting from Australia was a little put off, but not surprised.

STEVEN BROWN: It's a bit obtrusive, but that's the world we live in, isn't it?

HORSLEY: Several tourists say they understand the push for additional protection, though no one described the new barrier as attractive.

AMY MILLER: No, it does not look good.

HORSLEY: Amy Miller and her husband David traveled to Washington from China Grove, North Carolina to celebrate their anniversary. A year ago, David remembers getting good pictures through the White House fence. But today, he couldn't get close enough. The bike racks kept him away.

DAVID MILLER: Now it looks like you're looking through jail bars or something. I don't know.

HORSLEY: And several tourists wondered, what's the point? Rudy Vega of Santa Ana, California asked if an intruder was able to scale the much higher permanent fence, is a waist-high bike rack really a deterrent?

RUDY VEGA: That fence doesn't seem to be that effective to me. Unless there's somebody standing between me and that fence, I can get over that fence. Just for show is what it is.

HORSLEY: An architect who served on the U.S Commission of Fine Arts agrees. The commission oversees the design of all federal buildings in Washington. Architect Witold Rybczynski says just like the Jersey barriers that were slapped up after the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11, the White House of bike racks are a showpiece, not a solution.

WITOLD RYBCZYNSKI: It's just to alert the public that, you know, we know that something happened and we screwed up, but we're going to do something about it and this is what we're doing.

HORSLEY: The Secret Service insists the bike rack buffer is a temporary measure while it reviews the fence jumping incident. Rybczynski argues that even if it is temporary, the barrier's appearance still matters.

RYBCZYNSKI: Most people don't visit Washington very often and for those coming today, that's what they're going to see - an ugly eyesore - and not even really solving any particular problem.

HORSLEY: The Millers from North Carolina say the bike rack barrier certainty didn't make them feel welcomed standing outside the seat of their own government.

D. MILLER: You know, if you come all this way, it kind of...

A. MILLER: It's not welcoming.

D. MILLER: Yeah, it's not a good feel - I don't like it at all. If they did their job, the guy wouldn't have gotten all the way in there. That's just the crazy part.

HORSLEY: Congressman Darrell Issa echoed that point today, suggesting rather than taking away more public space outside the White House, the Secret Service should address its own failings inside the fence. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.