by Mary Brigid Barrett
Any member of the general public can tour the White House, but you must prepare in advance and make a formal request to visit the house. In our post-9/11 increased-security world, visiting the White House cannot be a spontaneous decision. Public tours of the White House are scheduled Tuesday through Saturday (excluding federal holidays) from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for groups of ten or more people. Here are the steps you need to take to ensure a successful White House visit.
If you want to make a tour of the White House a part of your vacation or visit to Washington, D.C., you must choose the date of your visit and get your request in at least a month before that date. Requests must be submitted through your congressional representativeyour local congressman or one of the senators from your home stateand are accepted up to six months in advance. You are encouraged to submit your request as early as possible since a limited number of tours are available. There are no fees or admission charges to visit the White House or the White House Visitor’s Center. Visits are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. All visitors should call the 24-hour Visitors Office information line at 202-456-7041 to determine if any last-minute changes have been made in the tour schedule.
To locate your senators and their contact information, go to: www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?OrderBy=state&Sort=ASC.
To find your congressional representative and his or her contact information, you must first look up your four-digit zip code extension, which you can do at: http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/welcome.jsp. Then, using that zip code information, go to: https://forms.house.gov/wyr/welcome.shtml.
Or, once you know who your representative and senators are, you can call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: (202) 224-3121.
Everyone who visits the White House must have clearance from the United States Secret Service.
In your request you must list the name and date of birth for any person who is under the age of fourteen by the date of your visit. For those in your party who are over fourteen years of age, you must list their names, dates of birth, social security numbers, and countries of citizenship. The National Park Service states that this security information must be received by the office through which tickets are obtained no later than five business days prior to the tour date. Groups without security information will be cancelled. Also please note that upon entry to the White House visitors fifteen years of age or older will be required to present photo identification with information exactly matching the name previously submitted for clearance. Individuals whose identification does not exactly match the name or date cleared will be denied entry to the White House.
If your party alone does not make a group of ten, request to be matched up with another small party of visitors. The person requesting the visit should specify in the request all personal contact information including address, phone number, and fax and email address if pertinent. You should be notified approximately one month before the requested date. Know that for a wide variety of reasons, White House tours can be canceled at any time. For the most current tour information, please call the 24-hour line at 202-456-7041.
Tours for hearing-impaired groups of ten or more may be requested through one’s Member of Congress. The Visitors Office TDD (telephone device for the deaf) is 202-456-2121.
Tours for visually-impaired groups of ten or more may be requested through one’s Member of Congress. Guide animals are permitted in the White House.
Scheduled visitors who require the loan of a wheelchair should notify the officer at the Visitors Entrance upon arrival. Unfortunately, wheelchair reservations are not possible. Visitors in wheelchairs, or with other mobility disabilities, use the same Visitors Entrance and are escorted by ramp from the entrance level to the Ground floor, and by the elevator from the Ground floor to the State floor.
Prohibited items include, but are not limited to, the following: handbags, book bags, backpacks, purses, food, and beverages of any kind, strollers, cameras, video recorders or any type of recording device, tobacco products, personal grooming items (make-up, hair brush or comb, lip or hand lotions, etc.), any pointed objects (pens, knitting needles, etc.), aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size. The U.S. Secret Service reserves the right to prohibit any other personal items. Umbrellas, wallets, cell phones and car keys are permitted. Please note that no storage facilities are available on or around the complex. Individuals who arrive with prohibited items will not be permitted to enter the White House.
Read Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out before you visit our White House! And be sure to look through and share other books and websites about the White House, the presidents, the first ladies, their families, pets, and staff before you visit Washington. You will find many great book and website suggestions in our bibliography at: Presidents, the President’s House, and More: A Select List of Books for Young People.
After sharing a book or two with young people, ask them what they think the White House is: is it a home; a museum; a place of work? You might also look at pictures in books that show the exterior of the house and the public roomsand pick out details of interest that your children and students can find on their tour. For fun, make up a White House scavenger hunt checklist of items that interest you and the young person, including furniture details, presidential portraits, paintings, architectural details, etc., and after your visit see how many of those details you saw on your tour.
Whatever the age of your children or students, take a moment and talk to them about your expectations for the visit. Talk to them about appropriate behavior and conversation at the White House. Sometimes it helps to compare and contrast behaviors for various kinds of situations. For example, you might say that it is appropriate to yell and shout at a baseball or basketball game, but in someone’s home, like the president’s home, that is not acceptable behavior. Let them know it is all right to ask questions during the tour. And let them know that they need to follow rules and directions.
Plan to get to the Presidential Park fifteen minutes beforehand if you are touring the building. But we suggest that you arrive about an hour before you visit so that you and your family or students can stop at the White House Visitor Center to see the exhibits and watch a video of the White House. You can also go there after you visit. It is located at the southeast corner of 15th and E Streets and is open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. It has a gift shop, but most importantly, there are rest rooms there!
All guests fifteen years of age or older will be required to present photo identification with information exactly matching the name previously submitted for clearance. Individuals whose identification does not exactly match the name or data cleared for entry may be denied. You need to get to the White House by entering from the south side of East Executive Avenue near the Southeast Gate. National Park Service Rangers and volunteers are posted at the corner of 15th and E Streets to assist you.
For directions to the White House, parking information, travel informationand everything else related to a White House visitgo to the National Park Service’s website at: www.nps.gov/whho/.
And for an online historical tour of the White House, go to: www.whitehousehistory.org/02/02.html.
Plan your trip in advance, prepare the kids, and have a great time at our White House!
©2008 Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance