Senate Sergeant at Arms Joins Facebook To Apologize To Inaugural Ticket Holders

The Senate’s Sergeant at Arms, Terry Gainer, joined Facebook to deliver a picture perfect apology to the survivors of the so-called Purple Tunnel of Doom, a group of several thousand people who were kept out of President Obama’s inauguration even though they had tickets. It takes a superior apology to address a colossal failure, and Gainer certainly delivered. The sincerity and completeness of the apology easily make it one of the best mea culpas we’ve ever seen.

All good apologies should sport a combination of three components, according to the money printers over at the Harvard Business School:

  • Acknowledging that you failed.
  • Admitting that you feel bad for failing.
  • Taking responsibility for being a failure.

Let’s see what Gainer wrote. His full apology reads:

For far too many of you Inauguration day did not turn out as planned. On behalf of the entire 2009 Inaugural Team, I apologize to each one of you who did not get onto the Capitol grounds, to those stuck in the tunnel, to those who had negative interactions with police officers, and those who experienced all three terrible situations. In addition, I regret the inability of the myriad of officials involved in the planning or the execution to respond to the chaos which unfolded.

Many of you had a very negative reaction to my initial reaction that “puffy or heavy coats” might have been one of any number of factors that contributed to our break-down that day. Obviously, I failed to better understand the anger, humiliation, frustration and sense of helplessness that was felt and experienced by so manyor explain myself.

The number of citizens adversely affected by this is still unclear. The initial information I had was less than 5000. I have now seen the photographs from the tunnel and the streets near the purple gates. I have watched hours of tapes of several of the gates to the Capitol grounds. I saw thousands of people in massive groups. Movement seemed impossible. They yelled for information and guidance. It apparently fell on deaf ears. Wether it is 5000 or 10,000, it is too many.

There is little solace for you in the fact that for many the event was successful, even if crowded and cold. That no one was seriously physically injured, hospitalized, nor were an arrest made is positive but does not excuse failures elsewhere.

This was a massive undertaking; the biggest event in DC history. The planners included, as you know United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department of DC, Park Police, Presidential Inaugural Committee, Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, numerous executive branch agencies, DC government, and the States of Maryland and Virginia.

The plan was approved by many and executed by scores, depending on the area of responsibility. Senator Feinstein has directed that a very exhaustive and transparent investigation and review be conducted by the United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department of DC, Park Police and the offices of the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms. This has begun. We assigned senior personnel who were NOT involved in the planning and execution. The Senator expects the report no later than 60 days and hopes that it is closer to 30.

Over these several days I have tried to provide information as I knew it or as it became know to me. My experience is that initial information is often inaccurate, or incomplete, and even insensitive because of the lack of context. I operated from the presumption that silence and no comment was frustrating per se.

Meeting with people who were in the tunnel and people involved in this Facebook group, reading and responding to emails, and watching the films (amateur and professional) continues to shed light on weaknesses in the planning and execution. Some failures resulted from good intentions but poor follow through; other failures were the result of inattention; many problems were directly related to the number of people.

Some facts as I know them today. The north bound tunnel was never intended to be used as a pedestrian walk way; the north bound tunnel was never intended to be used as a holding area for guests arriving at the purple gate, or for anyone else. But I watched the tape where law enforcement personnel directed people from the street to the tunnel. I believe, although at this point I cannot say with certainty, they were trying to clear the street and bring some order.

There have been many questions about gates being opened or closed. As to the Purple gate it opened before 8am; people with special needs were admitted. Watching films of that gate, and there are no direct angles, indicate that the flow of pople was very slow, very limited around 9 am. The initial understanding is thast the USCP officers were attemping to bring some orgaization to the gate area. People moved through this gate until well afternonn.

There was room on the grounds in overflow areas; the use of those overflow areas was part of the plan if more people came then past experience indicated. Many more came, everybody invited came. But the same amount of tickets were given for this Inaugration as the last several. The reason everbody did not get through the screen into those open overflow areas is a central as yet unanswered question. The joint investigative is working that as a key question.

Why was the gate area near purple so congested, as well as near the blue gate and the silver entrance? Preliminarily, based on interviews, reviewing tapes, emails, this face book information, some people came to the incorrect gate, too little information for those not familar with the area to navigate their way to the correct gate, hundreds, maybe thoudsands arrived with tickets sent to them by enties which were meant to be commerative and were not valid for admission, many heading to the parade and they could not get to their gates, poor, incorrect of no crowd mangement in the vicinity of the gates, the Mall filled quickly and people wandered or were improperly advised to try other streets or, unfortunately, tunnels.

We continue to gather facts. I respectfully request you give the joint review team an opportunity to complete the report.

We are here to listen (read) ; we want to understand more about your experience. But, I have another confession; I am brand new to face book; I joined last night. Although I typed many a homicide investigation during my days in Chicago, I remain a slow, hunt and peck typist. I love spell check on my computer and black berry and regret I have not found that same support on face book. So give me some slack in that area.

I cannot answer all your questions; all the facts are not avilable yet; the investigation and review continues. In addition, many more were involved in the planning and execution and they are not here with me.

But all the leaders of this operation are committed public servants who deeply regret our collective or systemic failures. We will get to the bottom of those weaknesses or failures and also tell about things that worked.

Thank you.

The Sergeant at Arms is the Congress’ badass. He has lots of mundane administrative responsibilities but he’s also charged with enforcing the chamber’s rules and is one of the few people empowered to arrest the President of the United States.

So how did the Sergeant do? Gainer hit all the apology high notes. He apologized, took responsibility, and promised a clear and responsible path towards a solution. He also gave a surprisingly complete explanation for the failure. What most impressed us though was that he took the time to join Facebook to deliver his message. His office could have issued a press release or written on any Congressional website (he controls them all) but instead he reached out directly to those who were affected.

Despite the good effort, nothing can replace a missed piece of history—but it’s nice to see the Sergeant at Arms trying.

Topic: Inauguration [Facebook]
Sgt. at Arms apologizes on Inaugural mess [Politico]
Purple Tunnel of Doom [Wikipedia]

Comments

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  1. ejg930 says:

    Wow. It’s nice to see him admit that the inauguration was botched, and take responsibility for it personally.

  2. NightSteel says:

    Good on him. If only CEOs and other people in positions of power followed his example.

  3. FrankenPC says:

    “This was a massive undertaking; the biggest event in DC history. The planners included, as you know United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department of DC, Park Police, Presidential Inaugural Committee, Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, numerous executive branch agencies, DC government, and the States of Maryland and Virginia.”

    :-O Holy mother of god! It took the services from three states to hold this inauguration!!

    • Sheogorath says:

      @FrankenPC:

      I find it amusing that many people totally fail to mention the National Park Service which, you know, owns the national mall.

      • jusooho says:

        @Sheogorath: Sorry, that is incorrect. The American people own the National Mall.

        • Sheogorath says:

          @jusooho:
          Semantics. I am aware that the NPS doesn’t ‘own’ much of anything. They manage it. They were heavily involved in the inauguration. They expended a good deal of effort in informing numerous other agencies that they do not, in fact, own or manage the national mall and are not authorized to issue permits, give permission, or otherwise use the national mall.

          • jusooho says:

            @Sheogorath: It might be that you’re ‘aware’ of it, but its terms like that, or “government money” or “rights given to us by the Constitution” that really bother me. Maybe we know what all those phrases mean, but they are incorrect in really insiduous ways.

      • Antediluvian says:

        @Sheogorath: The Park Police are NPS. Yeah, more people should mention the NPS when listing all the agencies, but they don’t. :-(

    • Sandlapper says:

      @FrankenPC:

      Umm..

      Virginia. Check.

      Maryland. Check.

      D.C. Nope. Not a state.

      Only two states are listed as being involved.

    • jamar0303 says:

      @FrankenPC: And for those curious, the TSA was also involved. Yes, the airport security people. And this incident. Coincidence? Maybe not.

      • Sidecutter says:

        @jamar0303: It wasn’t just the agencies named, either. Police were drawn from all over the country, including officers from right here in Louisville, KY. This was a massive, massive administrative effort.

  4. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    I was actually briefly going to snark about the spelling, but even before I got to the part where he apologized for his spelling, i realized the handful of typos are really evidence that he didn’t have this vetted by a dozen bureaucrats before speaking — this is right from him. And that’s nice. :)

  5. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    In this day and age of denying responsibility when something goes wrong, its a breath of fresh air to see something like this. Kudos to him.

    • FrankenPC says:

      @Neecy: More importantly, in an age where someone tries to apologize and that apology is thrown back in their face as a sign of weakness…no one is throwing his apology back at him.

      THEY haven’t changed, we have.

  6. The_IT_Crone says:

    maybe thoudsands arrived with tickets sent to them by enties which were meant to be commerative and were not valid for admission

    *winces* Yeah I had wondered if that was a problem (among other things, obviously).

  7. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Terry Gainer who ran the police side of many of the Tylenol poisonings around Chicago has yet to apologize for the botched investigation back in 1982.
    He & his buddy Ty Fahner were far more interested in getting facetime on TV than figuring out who did it & catching them.

    • vildechaia says:

      Gainer was probably hoping nobody here would be old enough to remember! At least there’s 2 of us who do.

    • synergy says:

      @Greasy Thumb Guzik: I vaguely remember hearing about that although I was pretty young at the time. I’ve done searches for it, but I can’t find any mention of Gainer in connection with the poisonings.

  8. Canino says:

    A victory for…um…consumerism?

  9. ncboxer says:

    He should use Firefox. I love the spell checking feature as I am a horrible typist.

  10. John Linthicum says:

    Holy mother of god! It took the services from three states to hold this inauguration!!

    sheesh…like we’ve never inaugurated a President before…

    • god_forbids says:

      @John Linthicum: No, but it’s the first time we coronated a messianic figure. It’s kind of a big deal ya know.

    • Aisley says:

      @John Linthicum:

      “…like we’ve never inaugurated a President before”

      You have to wonder. Why instead of using all those good for nothing groups and people didn’t they hire an EVENT COORDINATOR!!! Those are the people that think of EVERYTHING to make an event successful.

      As a Washingtonian, I can tell you that Mr. Oh I’m So Sorry did not write that letter. People write as they speak, and that’s not his talking style.

      There were thousands and thousands of people with tickets that were not able to make it to the designated areas because they were full. Then my question is, who were occuppying the spaces of those people? I do not believe that more tickets were issue than space they had. Why? Because DC is famous for the buck flying around with no one stoping it. If this was someone elses fault and not the police, Mr. Oh So Sorry would had yelling already.

  11. Quilt says:

    He should run for office.

    • reynwrap582 says:

      @Quilt: As much as the American people claim to hate politicians, we rail on anyone who runs for office that isn’t a professional politician for every tiny misstep or misstatement. Based only on this post, “professional politician” does not seem to apply to this man. I don’t know of his other activities so I could be wrong, but this is not the move of a career politician (admitting a mistake, not having the post reviewed by 50 advisors and analysts? crazy!)…

  12. bohemian says:

    Someone taking responsibility and being honest? I am actually a bit shocked. In the same week someone gave total strangers $20g to cover their medical bills that were driving them into the poor house with no strings attached.

    Two people in one week proving were not all a bunch immoral greedy jerks. Kind of nice.

  13. Crim Law Geek says:

    I think it’s hilarious how the DC Metro is patting themselves on the back for having 1.4 million riders on inauguration day. That’s like six hours of operation for the NYC Subway on an average weekday. And the Subway doesn’t completely shut down whenever there is a parade or big event in the city.

    I was at the Mall for the inauguration. Got there at around 6:30AM and it was already a clusterfuck. Gates to the mall where closing, but there was no signage or anything. They didn’t even give cops bullhorns, so you had people yelling trying to be heard by the crowd.

    The exit was even worse. They made the Metro entrance closest to the Mall exit-only (as if anyone would be crazy enough to try and go near the mall with a million people trying to leave it). Again, no signage and no bullhorns. All we had was a Petty Officer trying to be heard by several hundred thousand people. The massive crowd was expected to walk about 4 blocks, onto a street filled with parked buses and vans, to a secondary entrance to the Metro. Once we got there, the Metro had been shut down because of overcrowding. We tried another stop, which was also closed. Nowhere did we see any sort of meaningful signage.

    After a few hours we gave up and went to Chinatown for lunch/dinner.

    • Canino says:

      @Crim Law Geek: Sounds like a worthwhile trip. You got to see history in the making – the first day of a national clusterf***.

    • SabreDC says:

      @Crim Law Geek: “I think it’s hilarious how the DC Metro is patting themselves on the back for having 1.4 million riders on inauguration day. That’s like six hours of operation for the NYC Subway on an average weekday.”

      And NYC has 18 million people in its 6,000 square mile metro area. DC has 5 million people in its about 1,000 square mile metro area. NYC metro also has several pairs of tracks and DC metro has one track in each direction. Trains can’t pass each other or run express routes. 1.5 million rides on DC metro IS an amazing accomplishment.

      • jamar0303 says:

        @SabreDC: …Perhaps this (the idea of more than one track) should have been considered while the DC Metro was under construction.

        • SabreDC says:

          @jamar0303: I believe it was. And I believe it was shot down because taxpayers have to foot the entire bill for Metro infrastructure, unlike any other system (which may receive some federal funding, but DC metro infrastructure is paid for completely with tax dollars. Operations are still paid for by generated revenue, but not infrastructure.)

        • Tmoney02 says:

          @jamar0303: Well then write your senator to give us more money, since the federal government wasn’t keen on helping pay for two tracks.

          Also you can write your senator and ask that DC residents get representation in Congress. Perhaps if we actually had a senator or two or a congressman we might have gotten some pork to pay for a third track.

          Or you could ask that DC residents don’t get taxed, since as it stands we are taxed without representation. Its ironic (and sad) for the nations capitol to be a representation of exactly the thing the founding fathers found so outrageous.

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      @Crim Law Geek: I think it’s hilarious how the DC Metro is patting themselves on the back for having 1.4 million riders on inauguration day. That’s like six hours of operation for the NYC Subway on an average weekday. And the Subway doesn’t completely shut down whenever there is a parade or big event in the city.

      That’s like saying “you think squeezing 10 people in a Mini-Cooper is impressive? You can fit 150 in a bus!”

    • kmw2 says:

      @Crim Law Geek: The DC Metro is a bijou little subway system. It is not nearly on par with New York’s badass transit infrastructure.

    • ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

      @Crim Law Geek: Bonus. I had 4 cops give me 4 different set of directions… all of them wrong.

  14. HogwartsAlum says:

    I’m impressed. This was a great apology.

    I watched the inauguration on streaming video at work (I sneaked it – I think my boss knew but he didn’t say anything). That was a tremendous amount of people. It’s amazing that no one got hurt in that crush.

  15. Plates says:

    I hate to break it to you but it was Obama and his minions responsible for the problem.

  16. sonneillon says:

    So why don’t they send them apology cakes.
    Cake fixes everything.

  17. max crabb says:

    I consider Obama making it through the Inauguration alive the biggest success of the day!

    Only four years left…

  18. cmdrsass says:

    “This was a massive undertaking; the biggest event in DC history”

    I would expect the Senate Sergeant of Arms to have a better grasp of DC history than that.

  19. ExtraCelestial says:

    Well thanks, I feel mildly better about that shitty experience. Copious amounts of alcohol and an Obama sighting did the greatest good, but this is a nice little proverbial cherry on the sundae.

  20. Joedel263 says:

    next time around they should just hire the imagineers at Disney, they know how make people flow!

  21. Anonymous says:

    It is very irrating that everyone thinks that all of the apologizing is going to make up for an event that will not be repeated in a life time!!!!!I would like to see how the ticket holders of the SUPERBOWL would have handled being shut out of the game last night!!!!!! The DC law enforcement needs to be grateful that the crowd did not really turn on them as they should have. I spent over $3000.00 in order to see President Obama sworn in and all I seen was tears in eyes of people that had done everything in their power to make it happen only to have it ruined by you.

  22. Pan_theFrog says:

    @Crim Law Geek: If you normally have 10 customers a day, then you think you are doing really good on the day you have 27, right?

    Or put another way, if a major interstate gets detoured onto a 2 lane road, then the people living along that road might think there was a lot of traffic.

    This is kind of like that.

  23. Bs Baldwin says:

    Colossal failure? Less than 0.2% of the crowd was not able to get to their seats. 4,000 out of 1.8 million people. Snowflakes need to stfu about this already. You are going to the an inauguration that was going to be the largest on record, you knew there would be a chance you won’t get in.

  24. Alan Coleman says:

    Thanks for the apology!
    My question is (and I’m sure others have the same question) so what do we get for our trouble?
    I would appreciate some kind of inaugural packet with pictures or a DVD of the swearing in ceremony. I did not get to see it at all until a week and a half later on C-SPAN. It is my understanding through my congressman, that the committee on Presidential inaugurations is supposed to provide some type of special memento for those who didn’t get in. I would be happy to send a copy of my ticket(purple) to receive such a packet. Please give that though some consideration.

  25. Sally Hudson says:

    I have known Terry Gainer for 40 yrs via his amazing wife, Irene, as she and I were friends and classmates in nursing school. Terry is an amazing,honorable,friendly,dedicated, honest man who truly speaks from his heart. BELIEVE HIS APOLOGIES! We can all learn from each other.