We've Done It Before, and We Can Do It Again

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

It was a time when the nation was confronted by many and varied threats to its security. We were engaged in a long and complicated battle that forced us to scrutinize how we committed our resources.

The defense establishment came to the conclusion that it would be necessary to realign many of the command-and-control assets in the National Capital Area.

Significant activities would be relocated to consolidate various functions. For example, 1.2 million square feet of office and leased space would be vacated and employees moved to a central, secure complex.

Planners realized that transportation was a central issue. To support realignment, 30 miles of new roadway on five separate routes, three new cloverleafs and 21 overpasses were necessary. New commuting patterns were studied and applied to design and construction. A major bypass to avoid built-up areas and to funnel traffic more expeditiously was determined to be critical.

Criticism reached fever pitch on the inability to include mass-transit upgrades and to complete efforts to make commuting more agreeable and as efficient as possible. One major hurdle was the ability to discharge tens of thousands of workers at their new location. An early plan examined the feasibility of large parking areas, each capable of holding several thousand vehicles.

Members of the press strongly criticized the overall cost and the secondary uses of the new complex. They expressed particular concern that no funds had been appropriated for transportation infrastructure improvements in the surrounding community in the initial legislation.

The area for the proposed new complex contained plenty of open space for new buildings. Population shifts potentially involved large numbers of contractors and service workers. Planners also wrestled with the many problems of access control and security. Civilian security companies were contracted to provide access control. Once the complex had been completed, however, the degree of force protection was a great improvement over the previous system of wide dispersal among city office buildings.

This may sound familiar, but the description refers to just some of the issues involved in planning and building the Pentagon in 1942 and 1943.

In 1942, the War Department faced the challenges of moving more than 23,000 employees from at least 17 different sites around Washington into a central location while fighting World War II. The closure-and-realignment law requires that the Defense Department relocate more than 22,000 employees to Fort Belvoir while fighting the global war on terrorism.

Another similarity is striking: The gross floor space of the Pentagon is 6.6 million square feet; new construction at Fort Belvoir will be about 7 million square feet by 2011.

My point is this: We've done this before, and we can do it again.

By working together and keeping the lines of communication open, we can get the job done.

The Pentagon project should provide more than enough evidence that complex problems can be solved.

We have the talent. We are Army strong, and we are America strong!

"The Pentagon: The First Fifty Years" by Alfred Goldberg and Gus Person was used in collecting facts for this article.

Col. Brian W. Lauritzen is Fort Belvoir's installation commander. He is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission's recommendations for the post. Here, Lauritzen compares the challenges presented by the present closures and realignments with those of a similar project undertaken by the military more than six decades ago.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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