Ney to Convene Evaluation of Evacuation

Posted May 17, 2005 at 6:01pm

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said Tuesday his panel will hold an oversight hearing to evaluate last week’s evacuation of the Capitol complex.

The Ohio lawmaker said the hearing, to be held after the Memorial Day recess, will focus on the evacuation process and also will address questions raised by House Members about the procedures used during the incident, which was triggered when a small aircraft violated restricted airspace.

“The purpose is to analyze what did happen,” said Ney, who noted that he remains supportive of the decisions made by Congressional law enforcement officials.

“I had no doubt we had to evacuate the Capitol,” Ney told a group of Ohio high school students during a videoconference from his office in the Longworth House Office Building on Tuesday morning. “I thought the Capitol Hill police acted correctly.”

But Ney said he does plan to address concerns raised by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who has questioned why other buildings in the District of Columbia were not evacuated during the scare.

Additionally, Ney said the hearing could also address various suggestions he has received from House lawmakers in recent days, ranging from changes in evacuation procedures to one proposal to reconstruct Andrews Air Force Base as a public airport while converting Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport into an Air Force facility. (The latter suggestion, Ney noted, would not fall under his committee’s jurisdiction.)

The Wednesday evacuation was prompted when a Cessna 150, a small, two-seat aircraft, entered the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone, an area marked by a 17-mile radius around the Washington Monument that is off-limits to all but government, medical and military aircraft as well as pre-approved commercial flights.

Pilot Jim Sheaffer and passenger Troy Martin, a student pilot, had apparently became lost after taking off from Smoketown, Pa., en route to an air show in North Carolina, and entered the air space near the Capitol and the White House.

Their aircraft was eventually forced down by two F-16 jets and a Blackhawk helicopter, and federal officials took the pair into custody after they landed in Frederick, Md., and then subsequently released the duo.

Although a witness list has yet to be finalized, members of the Capitol Police Board will likely be asked to testify before the panel.

A Capitol Police spokesman was not available for comment Tuesday, but Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Pickle defended the evacuation, stating the process worked “exceptionally well” given the 30,000 to 40,000 individuals involved.

“If we had to do it over again, we’d do it the same way,” Pickle said. “The chief made the right decision” to evacuate the building.

Pickle also criticized statements made by security experts quoted in media reports who asserted that evacuating thousands of people from the buildings could have created additional dangers if the aircraft been loaded with explosives or biohazards.

“We have spent an awful lot of time researching evacuations,” Pickle said.

Although a public hearing would be a “wonderful opportunity” to discuss the evacuation itself, Pickle added, an open forum could also curtail substantive discussions about emergency procedures, which he said would need to be addressed in a closed meeting because of security concerns.