Commuting by car in the Washington area can make cutthroats of the most compassionate of souls, even those, apparently, who care for America’s war wounded. At the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, crowded with additional workers because of base consolidation, it appears some employees have been using phony permits to steal parking spaces from their colleagues.
A spokesman for the sprawling health-care facility, formerly called the National Naval Medical Center (or Bethesda Naval Hospital, for short), acknowledged Friday that authorities are looking into the use of counterfeit parking placards by workers who battle horrendous morning traffic to the reach the campus, off Rockville Pike, but can’t find anywhere to legally park on the grounds.
“It’s an ongoing investigation ... by law enforcement internal to the base,” said the spokesman, Joe Macri, who offered few details. He declined to say how the scam came to light, how many employees might have been involved or whether any of them have been disciplined. No criminal charges have yet been filed, he said.
In the largest ever consolidation of U.S. military health-care facilities, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then in the District, merged with the Navy hospital last year, increasing the Bethesda workforce by 44 percent, to 11,686 people. The facility has more than a dozen parking lots, Macri said. But there aren’t nearly enough spaces for every employee, patient and visitor who comes to the campus.
The precise number of available spaces is elusive; the figure changes regularly because of myriad construction projects on the grounds. But Macri said the National Capital Planning Commission requires at least one parking spot for every three employees of the facility — a minimum of 3,895 spaces — and “we are well within that ratio.”
The parking placards hang from rear-view mirrors. Each division at the hospital is allotted a certain number of passes, which are distributed free to employees, “usually involving a waiting list situation,” Macri said. He said the manufacture and use of counterfeit placards, while possibly a crime, “is not a security issue,” because a worker entering the hospital grounds must show a separate pass to a guard at the gate.
“We have ample parking spaces within the NCPC requirements,” Macri said. “Obviously, though, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t have one, that would be of concern to you.”