The White House is easily one of the most famous and important public building in the world. Thousands of people have had the public tour of the ceremonial rooms of the main residence building. Far fewer have had the opportunity to see the most important rooms in the West Wing, including the Cabinet Room, the Press Room, and the Oval Office. Though getting a West Wing tour is very difficult, here's how you can try to get one, and how the tour will work.
Get a White House staffer to invite you. West Wing tours are conducted by White House employees with West Wing access (which is not even all White House employees). West Wing tours are conducted on employees' free time, usually on weekends, so they must be willing to volunteer the favor to you. The three categories of visitors most likely to get a West Wing tour are (1)friends and family of White House employees, (2) celebrities or prominent political activists who contact the White House Office of Political Affairs, and (3) friends and prominent supporters of Members of Congress who themselves contact the White House Office of Political Affairs.
Schedule your West Wing tour. The White House has historically had a rule that West Wing tours can only occur outside of regular business hours and when the President is not in the West Wing. Most West Wing tours, therefore, occur on weekends. Your best bet is to try to schedule the tour for a weekend when you know the President will be out of town. Otherwise, if he chooses to work in the West Wing at the time of your tour, your tour may be canceled or postponed.
Provide appropriate personal information to obtain a security clearance. You will need to supply the White House with your full name, birth date, social security number, and possibly other personal data in order for the Secret Service to conduct a background check on you. This is not optional and if a problem arises it can be somewhat burdensome.
Arrive in appropriate attire at the Northwest Entrance to the White House. The White House as a dress code for tours, though it is fairly flexible. Business casual attire is acceptable. You will start your tour at the Secret Service booth at the Northwest Entrance to the White House grounds. The Secret Service will let you through the security checkpoint after your tour guide arrives to escort you. You will be given a temporary badge to wear at all time on your tour.
Begin your tour at the West Wing Portico. Your tour will begin outside the West Wing at the Portico. This is the official entrance to the West Wing. When the President is present in the West Wing, it is guarded by ceremonial Marine guards. The guards are not present during your weekend tour. Photography is allowed outside the Portico.
See the Roosevelt Room. You will see the Roosevelt Room, where many senior staff meetings occur. No photography is usually allowed in the Roosevelt Room.
See the Cabinet Room. You will also see the Cabinet Room, where the President and his Cabinet meet. No photography is usually allowed in the Cabinet Room.
See the Oval Office. You will be allowed to look into the Oval Office from the hallway. You will not, however, be able to step into the Oval Office. No photography is usually allowed in the Oval Office.
See the Rose Garden. You will be allowed to walk around the side of the Rose Garden outside the Oval Office, which is where most outdoor press conferences occur. Photography is usually allowed in the Rose Garden
Finish your tour in the White House Press Room. You will have the chance to see the White House Press Room and get your picture taken standing behind the famous podium where White House press conferences are held. Photography is allowed in the Press Room.
Items you will need
- Personal data for Secret Service security clearance
- Connection to a White House staff member with West Wing access
- Proper dress attire
- A little luck
- If you don't personally know any White House staff, find a friend who does and try to get invited with them. Small and medium sized groups are allowed.
- Don't be offended if your request for a tour is turned down. Only a few people are allowed to give tours and they do so on their own time - they just can't say yes even to all of their friends.