Pentagon Aims to Disperse Facilities
Thursday, May 19, 2005
The Pentagon's recommendation to move more than 20,000 defense jobs from sites in the Washington area is based in part on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's goal of shifting operations out of the capital region, according to the base realignment and closure plan released last week.
The dispersal strategy, which had not been announced previously, is mentioned numerous times in the base-closings report as a justification for abandoning leased office space in Northern Virginia and transferring some facilities from Maryland and the District.
The report does not explain why Rumsfeld wants to reduce the concentration of Defense Department activities in and near Washington, and Pentagon officials declined to elaborate yesterday. Several local members of Congress said the policy appears to be an effort to make the department less vulnerable in the event of another terror attack or a natural disaster in the nation's capital.
Several of the lawmakers, including John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed concern about Rumsfeld's goal. A Warner spokesman said yesterday that the senator questions the security standards the Pentagon has developed both for buildings and for the metropolitan area. He also said the guidelines could increase defense costs by requiring new construction elsewhere.
"Senator Warner is very concerned about the proposed closures. He has not seen a justification from DOD for the savings that these closures are expected to produce," Warner spokesman John Ullyot said. "He intends to very closely scrutinize the standards -- the force-protection standards and the savings rationale for the closure of leased office space."
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), who represents Arlington County and Alexandria, called the decision to move defense jobs outside the region "arbitrary" and said the dispersal goal was not included in the criteria the Pentagon had said would guide the new round of base closings.
"What do they accomplish by moving away from the very center of decision-making they have to be a part of?" Moran asked, noting that the Defense Department's headquarters -- the Pentagon -- is not moving.
The plan released Friday would eliminate or reduce forces at more than 800 military installations across the country, with the aim of consolidating far-flung operations and saving $49 billion over 20 years. A nine-member commission is reviewing the plan and has until Sept. 8 to produce a final list that President Bush must accept or reject in its entirety and forward to Congress.
The Washington area would have a net loss of 14,459 defense jobs, more than any other metropolitan region in the country, according to the Pentagon's calculations. Its definition of the D.C. area, however, does not include some outer counties that would gain employment, such as Anne Arundel, where Fort Meade would get an additional 5,361 military and civilian jobs.
Arlington and Alexandria would be the hardest-hit jurisdictions, losing almost 23,000 defense workers now housed in leased office space.
Northern Virginia officials had expected job losses because those office buildings do not meet new Pentagon requirements that structures be set back at least 82 feet from traffic to protect against truck bombs. But the Pentagon's broader goal of moving jobs outside the region presents local officials with an additional obstacle as they lobby against the loss of the leases.
Moran and Northern Virginia Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R) and Frank R. Wolf (R) said the military risks a brain drain because many of its skilled technical workers would take other jobs rather than leave the area. They also argued that moving defense operations out of the region would decrease coordination with other federal agencies involved in security and homeland defense.