How To Distribute Tickets To An Obama Event (And How Not To)

[ Posted Thursday, March 26th, 2009 – 15:13 UTC ]

In an admirable spirit of egalitarianism, President Obama has opened up the White House Easter party for children (the annual "egg roll") so that anyone who is lucky enough can get a ticket online. The official website to apply for tickets has reportedly been a bit overwhelmed, but because they are randomly accepting reservations on-and-off throughout the day (instead of starting at one set time), there is still a chance for any member of the public to get one of these tickets.

But, although I have no plans to attend, I have to applaud them for making the tickets so available. [Full disclosure: I believe I attended one of these when I was about five, although I don't know whether we made it in to the White House grounds or just attended alternate events in the park across the street. Hey, I was five, I don't remember all the details perfectly....] But opening up the White House egg roll to the general public is the right thing to do, meaning that even if you don't manage to get tickets, everyone still has the same chance. It's basic fairness.

As opposed to, say, the process that Senator Dianne Feinstein's Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) used, which led to a multi-layered fiasco of epic proportions.

Feinstein, if you'll remember, was chagrined when it became painfully obvious to each and every one of the two million Inauguration attendees that the PIC had spent more time worrying about the horrifying prospects that someone might (gasp!) actually sell an official ticket online than they had spent worrying about actually planning some decent crowd control for the event.

Which, ironically, has led one of the disgruntled "purple ticket" holders to demand her money back. All ten thousand dollars of it. Because, you see, while Feinstein was leading a witch hunt for the evil online ticket scalpers, her PIC was also actually selling tickets themselves -- for $10,000 to $50,000 a pop. And now, Patricia Blessman wants her money back. She has managed to get American Express to issue a tentative refund of her "donation," but still doesn't know whether the committee will refund her money or not. The committee, in a move long favored by corporations looking to escape accountability, has "dissolved" -- and is no longer responding to any requests, inquiries, complaints... or demands for refunds.

Coupled with this amusing news item is the word that, in a classic display of "the Foxes' Committee On Henhouse Security," Feinstein has wrapped up her investigation of the problems people experienced during the Inauguration. From a Washington Post article on the report:

A report released by a congressional committee yesterday found that "flaws and shortcomings in the planning process" contributed to chaotic conditions around the U.S. Capitol for people trying to attend President Obama's inauguration in January.

Thousands of people complained that they were stuck in slow-moving lines or tightly packed crowds outside entrance gates to the Capitol area, causing them to miss the ceremony even though they had tickets.

An executive summary of the report said the main cause of the breakdown was a flood of people, many without the proper tickets, who overwhelmed the entrance gates.

The document also pointed to insufficient signs, poor coordination among law enforcement agencies and a lack of personnel to keep order and provide information to visitors. Officials at the multi-agency command center were not aware of the problems in some ticket lines, it said.

The report was drawn up for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies by several law enforcement agencies that worked on the event, led by the Secret Service. Only an eight-page executive summary was released because the full report contained sensitive security information, according to the committee.

The summary recommended setting up a high-level committee to oversee planning and improve coordination for the next inauguration and opening the ticket gates earlier.

While I admit I haven't downloaded the PDF file of the executive summary (the file size seems immense for an eight-page document), I would be willing to bet that the lion's share of the report deals with the ticketed areas in the event, and that it mostly ignores the problems the bulk of the (unticketed) crowd faced in getting to the Mall.

I reported on these problems extensively at the time, from a first-hand perspective. So allow me to conduct my own executive summary of how to fix the problems for next time. It is not a massive document. It could fit on Twitter. Here it is:

Find someone other than Dianne Feinstein to chair the committee.

In fact, I will go further -- put whoever is in charge of handing out the White House Easter egg roll tickets in charge of deciding who gets a ticket to the next Inauguration. Then hire any decent concert promoter to figure out crowd flow and crowd control. Anyone who has handled any outdoor rock concert or NASCAR event would do.

This stuff ain't rocket science, in other words.


-- Chris Weigant


One Comment on “How To Distribute Tickets To An Obama Event (And How Not To)”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I think all of the ticket holders who did not get into their designated zone, through no fault of their own, should get a refund.

    I hope that given the new administration's promise of transparency there will be a complete audit of the committee's expenditures available to the public.


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