A federal panel voted Thursday to close the District's historic Walter Reed Army Medical Center and to move 9,000 military and civilian defense jobs from Arlington and Alexandria to military bases outside the Beltway despite concerns about the traffic problems such a move could cause.
The federal base-closing commission's decisions came on the second day of voting on the Pentagon's plan to restructure hundreds of military bases and facilities across the country. The Pentagon is seeking to eliminate about 180 military installations nationwide with the goal of saving nearly $49 billion over 20 years.
Once the commission has finished its review of the plan, it goes to President Bush for approval.
The panel voted unanimously Thursday morning to close the Walter Reed hospital, where U.S. presidents, foreign leaders, veterans and wounded soldiers have been treated since it opened in 1909. Walter Reed's services will be moved to the Bethesda military hospital and to a new hospital in Fort Belvoir in southeastern Fairfax County.
Later in the morning, the panel voted to move the 9,000 military and civilians jobs in the close-in suburbs to military bases outside the Beltway, including the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Fort Belvoir and Fort Meade in Maryland.
Still to be decided is the fate of nearly 14,000 more jobs in leased office space in Arlington and Alexandria.
Some members of the commission brought up local concerns that such a massive jobs shift would create traffic nightmares. But others said the increased security at the fortified bases outside the Beltway and the cost savings involved outweighed any potential traffic problems.
The commission's decision on Walter Reed Army Medical Center came despite the institution's storied past.
For almost a century, wounded combatants have arrived there after returning from war. Recently, it has housed more than a thousand injured troops coming from the front lines in Iraq.
Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. Douglas MacArthur spent their final days on the 113-acre Walter Reed campus of rose-brick buildings bounded by Rock Creek Park and Georgia Avenue. Former senator Bob Dole was treated there after he was wounded in Italy in 1945.
The Pentagon had recommended closing Walter Reed because it is old and underused.
Before the vote, Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the base-closing commission, described Walter Reed as an aging facility that needed to be modernized. "Kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them in harm's way, deserve to come back to 21st century medical care," Principi said. He said building a new state-of-the-art military hospital was a "no-brainer."
The Pentagon had proposed closing Walter Reed and expanding the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda into a new facility called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, keeping the well-known name. The District would lose 5,630 jobs in the move.
The Pentagon would also build a 165-bed community hospital at Fort Belvoir to handle some of Walter Reed's functions.
D.C. leaders had mobilized against the Pentagon's recommendation, seeking to prevent the closure of the renowned D.C. facility and the loss of jobs.
"I'm very, very disappointed in the commission," D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said on the WTOP radio show, Ask the Mayor, soon after the morning vote.
If the hospital is closed, Williams said the city would have to work with Congress and the administration to find a new use that "made sense for our District and the needs of our city."
"But I don't want to get to that point," Williams said, noting that "there is a possibility of some changes being made and sent back to the commission. We should look into that and even pursue that."
Adrian Fenty (D), the council member for the city's Ward 4 where Walter Reed is located, issued a statement saying he will "continue to fight this decision, and if it is in fact finalized, will continue to work with the military and the community to gain local control of the property and to mitigate as many of the effects of the closure as possible."
But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said on WTOP radio that she has little hope of reversing the decision. "The president has said he will not change anything BRAC [the Base Closure and Realignment Commission] does," she said.
Norton said she would like to see the Walter Reed site developed in a manner that fits in with the "up-scale residential neighborhood" that surrounds it. "This may not be the best space for a government facility," she said.
The Pentagon said that one-time costs for the move from Walter Reed, including construction and renovations, would total $989 million. The Pentagon would save $301 million over 20 years, the commission said.
Although the commission supported plans to update current military medical facilities, members questioned whether the $170 million the Pentagon earmarked for a new state-of-the-art military hospital at Bethesda would be sufficient.
"The costs here are going to be substantially greater," said commission member Samuel K. Skinner, a former transportation secretary.
Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.