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Federal Agencies' Outward Migration Irks Area Officials

Asked about local complaints, a Pentagon spokesman pointed to the commission's final report, which acknowledged local concerns that "quality of life could be reduced because of transportation problems such as increased traffic, lack of public transportation and increased commuting times, with the attendant issues of air pollution and increased fuel consumption." The report went on to say that "these concerns were carefully weighed and considered, but in the final analysis the commission found they did not collectively rise to the level of a substantial deviation" from other priorities.

The General Services Administration, which oversees the siting of federal facilities, mentions in its regulations the need to consider transportation access, environmental impact and a "community's economy, sense of place and social fabric." But security concerns apply even to agencies unrelated to the military or law enforcement -- all new federal buildings are supposed to have a minimum setback of 50 feet, though exemptions are possible in urban areas, depending on the agency's function.

Critics say that although security concerns are understandable in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the recent moves go too far. They point out that other countries have found ways, from traffic restrictions to building design, to keep government buildings downtown in their capital cities.

"There seems to be a perception that federal agencies, no matter what they do, need to be protected," said Ronald F. Kirby, a transportation planner with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "Rather than mix in and have your offices spread around with other activities, it's, 'Let's all get together and build a fortress someplace, and no one can get near us.' "

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said many of agencies being moved to Belvoir are obscure entities and hardly obvious targets. "The terrorists don't know who's in what office building, and even if they knew, they couldn't locate them because of all those acronyms," he said. "The security thing is overblown. It's not tempered by any measure of common sense."

George Vradenburg, a former America Online executive who is organizing a major regional planning exercise, said that the head of the GSA's buildings department had remarked at a recent conference that the agency would be willing to include local officials on the panel that makes siting decisions. But Vradenburg said nothing has come of that so far.

Some say the concerns over the federal dispersal are exaggerated. Other than the military relocations, there is little sign of a general outward move by other federal agencies, said Matthew J. Klein, president of the Akridge development company, which has federal tenants in several of its buildings. "Washington is the center of government operations, and my sense is that people still want to be closer to that center," he said. "Last I checked, no one was moving from the White House or Capitol Hill."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) disputed the inclusion of the Tysons tunnel decision as an example of federal narrow-mindedness. Fairfax officials were initially in support of an aboveground route for the Metro through Tysons, he said, and when local officials recently decided a tunnel was better, federal officials simply told them that it would be difficult to change plans. He agreed, however, with criticisms of the military relocation, which he called a "horrendous land-use decision."

Particularly aggravating to some about the transfers to Belvoir is that the Army has so far ruled out putting any of the elements at a huge, underused GSA warehouse in Springfield, a couple of miles from the post and adjacent to a Metro station. The Army says it is too complicated for it to get control of the site.

Other local officials hold out the hope that the relocations to Belvoir, which are supposed to be done by 2011, won't be carried out fully. It's possible, they say, that the road upgrades needed for the move will be found to be too costly or that a new defense secretary will soon replace Donald H. Rumsfeld, a top proponent of consolidating employees on posts.

But Pentagon spokesman Chris Isleib said it was unrealistic to expect a pullback on transfers. The relocation "is a matter of law, and we remain committed to it," he said.


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