2010 Closing Projected for Walter Reed

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 20, 2005

Walter Reed Army Medical Center will close about five years from now if the Pentagon's new round of base closings is approved, Defense Department officials said yesterday, adding that no new military activity is planned on the historic District campus.

Testifying before the nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission that is weighing the Pentagon's nationwide streamlining plan, officials said that Walter Reed's 113-acre site in Northwest Washington would be offered to other federal agencies or possibly to the District for reuse under applicable federal law.

D.C. and Northern Virginia leaders have mobilized against the Pentagon's recommendations, seeking to prevent the shift of tens of thousands of defense jobs from Washington area sites.

Their efforts earned some sympathetic questions yesterday from commissioners, who probed whether the disruption caused to workers and to the bases they would be sent to, such as Fort Belvoir in southeastern Fairfax County, would offset predicted savings and other efficiencies.

"We have to be sure that the potential gain from the move is worth the potential cost," said commission member Harold W. Gehman Jr., a retired Navy admiral and former commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Gehman said that 60 to 75 percent of skilled technical workers in defense facilities typically leave their jobs if forced to relocate, "so it obviously is a loss of skill and continuity, and no one can predict in advance of moving a facility from one place to another how many people might move."

Gehman, who previously served as an unpaid adviser to a Virginia base closure study panel established by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), has recused himself from discussions regarding the state. Three other commissioners who formerly served in Congress or on a California base closure study panel also have recused themselves from projects involving their home states.

Commissioner James T. Hill, a retired Army general and former commander of U.S. Southern Command, singled out traffic congestion around Fort Belvoir, which is slated to receive as many as 18,400 additional workers under the Pentagon's plan.

"I'm having a hard time understanding how 11,000 more people are absorbed into Belvoir and in the surrounding communities and into the traffic pattern out there," he said, using the figure initially released by the Pentagon and later revised by the post. "Did you all look at that?"

Army official Donald C. Tison said Pentagon analysts were assured by Army engineers that there is plenty of room on the post. As for the surrounding area, Tison said that he did not have specifics but that the Army has budgeted $125 million for infrastructure improvements there. He also cited talks regarding light rail, commuter rail and Interstate 95 access through the Franconia-Springfield Parkway extension.

The surgeon general of the Air Force, Lt. Gen. George P. Taylor, addressed plans to close the Walter Reed hospital and expand the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda into a new facility called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The District would lose 5,630 jobs in the move.

The Pentagon also would build a 165-bed community hospital at Fort Belvoir to handle some of Walter Reed's functions.

Because of the complexity of medical construction, Taylor said, the project would be completed "in the 2010 timeframe."

At Walter Reed's current home between Rock Creek Park and Georgia Avenue NW, "no military activity will remain there, no sir. . . . The garrison is gone, the post closes," save for some affiliated housing nearby, Taylor said.

Under federal law, the property would be offered to other federal agencies. If deemed excess, the land would be offered to homeless assistance groups, then potentially to local authorities by negotiation or for sale for reuse.

A spokesman for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said yesterday that military officials will brief her next week and that "an upscale residential neighborhood makes it necessary for her to focus on all options, from economic loss to the District to the future of the site itself."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company