The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce hailed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's announcement this week that the agency had decided to relocate its headquarters near the King Street Metro station as a victory for smart growth.
It is a "critical first step" in resolving issues that will promote a healthy economic climate and quality of life" in the city, the chamber said.
Relocating the PTO from Crystal City to Alexandria will provide millions of dollars in commercial property tax revenue "to help support the public service demands of the heavy residential base that already exists in the city," said the chamber's chairman, Randy Kell. "We need this kind of high-quality, high-value development to properly balance our tax base."
Ask Marie Johns, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams to address the issues of jobs and property tax revenue, and doubtless they will tell you the District needs the same things: more high-quality development to balance its tax base and more revenue to support public service demands.
But the decision to keep the agency in Northern Virginia was never in doubt. The District was never even remotely considered as a possible location for the patent office's new headquarters.
In fact, two of the three "finalist" sites that were being considered were in Alexandria. The other is in Arlington at Crystal City, the patent office's home ever since it left the District about 30 years ago.
But take nothing away from Alexandria officials and the city's chamber. They lobbied successfully for the PTO and are now in a position to add 7,000 federal jobs to the city's employment base.
Federal officials nonetheless squandered an opportunity to make up, at least in part, for the loss of thousands of government jobs in the District in recent years.
Simply put, the District has been victimized once again by benign neglect on the part of federal officials.
Government officials agreed to move the patent office to Alexandria despite the existence of two executive orders requiring federal agencies to consider locating their offices in central cities first.
That agreement not only contravenes the intent and spirit of the executive orders but also calls into question more recent commitments by the Clinton administration and Congress to help improve and stabilize the District's economy.
In 1976, President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order requiring government agencies to locate federal facilities in central cities as a way of strengthening those communities and making them attractive places in which to live and work.
The order further emphasized the importance of locating federal facilities in a way that will conserve existing urban resources and encourage the development and redevelopment of cities.
Three years ago, President Clinton not only affirmed that policy but also ordered federal agencies, when relocating, to consider moving initially to historic properties within historic districts, or to other sites within historic districts.
Indeed, in announcing a new public-private partnership with urban downtown associations three years ago, the General Services Administration, the government's real estate arm, said the initiative would build on existing policies, including the two executive orders.
The GSA nevertheless gave its blessing to the proposed lease under which the government would pay $1.2 billion over 20 years to house the patent office in an office complex that would be built as part of the mixed-use Carlyle development in Alexandria.
What's the big deal, you ask? Aside from the fact that the two executive orders covering the location of federal facilities weren't considered applicable in this instance, there is the matter of federal job losses in the District.
Federal employment in the District shrank by 2,200 jobs as recently as the 12-month period that ended in April. Indeed, more than 49,000 federal jobs in the District have been eliminated since 1992.
"Government downsizing continued to play a pivotal role in the loss of jobs in the District's economy," the D.C. Department of Employment Services noted in its latest report on employment activity in the region.
At 6.3 percent, unemployment in the District may have dropped to its lowest level in nine years, but job growth remains sluggish. There was a net gain of only 700 jobs in April, compared with an increase of 4,400 in the suburbs.
Not surprisingly, then, the DES reported that the suburban economy is "predominantly responsible for current job growth in the Washington area."
That has been the pattern for several years now.
Job growth in suburban Washington's private sector continues to be strong, but clearly the federal government continues to play a major role in that growth, spending billions of dollars on government contracts, payrolls and federal facilities.
On the other hand, the District has had to swallow 74 percent of the federal government job losses in the area since 1992.
And given the opportunity to correct that disparity, government officials have again acceded to the wishes of influential members of Congress, who usually get their way in the absurd apportionment of federal agencies.