Defense Jobs in N.Va. At Risk

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Defense Department will have to move as many as 50,000 employees out of Northern Virginia office buildings if it strictly enforces new security regulations, and local lawmakers say Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld could announce some of those relocations this week.

Rumsfeld is to release a list of planned military base closings and realignments by Friday. Although Pentagon officials have declined to provide details, Rumsfeld said last week that the department wants to move workers from leased office space to buildings it owns to cut long-term costs.

The department would have to begin moving those jobs anyway because of anti-terrorism regulations it adopted two years ago, which require, among other things, that buildings not on military bases be set back at least 82 feet from traffic to protect against truck bombs.

The new standards, already in effect for new construction, become mandatory in October for new leases and will be phased in for all lease renewals starting in 2009.

The Pentagon rents about 8 million square feet of space in 140 Northern Virginia buildings -- and almost none of them can meet the new requirement, according to analysts and lawmakers.

Although just how the Pentagon will implement the rules is uncertain, local members of Congress say they fear that tens of thousands of defense jobs will leave Arlington County and other densely populated parts of Northern Virginia over the next five to 15 years, moving to military bases or commercial sites outside the Capital Beltway -- or elsewhere in the country -- where land is cheaper.

The District and Maryland have fewer Defense Department leases but could also be affected.

"I think the [base realignment] process is about to drop an economic bombshell on Northern Virginia. It's probably the greatest threat to our economy since the real estate recession of the late 1980s," Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who represents Arlington, home to about 60 percent of the leased Defense space in the region, said in an interview.

"I don't want to cause people to panic, but I suspect very strongly that . . . its target is going to be DOD-leased space, particularly leased space within proximity of the Pentagon," Moran said.

In addition to the economic impact on such jurisdictions as Arlington, land-use experts say the security regulations could increase suburban sprawl and frustrate "smart growth" efforts in urban areas.

Moran has asked Rumsfeld to ease the setback rule, and a spokesman for John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he, too, supports a more flexible standard as long as it does not sacrifice safety.

Besides the minimum setback requirement, the new Pentagon rules call for buildings to be more collapse-resistant; to eliminate uncontrolled below-ground or rooftop parking; and to have protective window glazing, mailroom ventilation and emergency shutoff switches for air distribution.

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