The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its 2,600 Washington-area employes apparently will not be moving to a new Silver Spring headquarters in the near future, if at all, Montgomery County officials said last week.
The county had offered the federal government a free building site -- now worth an estimated $14 million -- directly opposite the Silver Spring Metro station, hoping it would help spur the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring.
The county is now looking for a private developer, however, since the NRC project seems "virtually dead" at that site, according to county planner Donald Spivak. The site is presently a county parking lot at Second Avenue and Cameron Street; any building would be constructed above a parking facility there.
Consolidating the scattered NRC employes has long been a goal of the federal agency that regulates the nation's civilian nuclear power plants and programs. More than 75 percent of NRC employes live in Montgomery County and work in seven office buildings in downtown Bethesda, where the bulk of NRC activity takes place. Some NRC employes also work in Rockville, some in Silver Spring, and some, including the five presidentially appointed NRC commissioners, in office suites two blocks from the White House at 1717 H St. NW.
For more than five years the NRC has been embroiled in controversy over where to consolidate.
Union polls show that 92 percent of NRC employes want to keep NRC offices in Montgomery County. "They don't want to move downtown," said James Thomas, president of the NRC unit of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).
Both Congress and the General Services Administration, the federal government landlord, have endorsed a move to Silver Spring, although GSA and the House initially recommended a downtown Washington site.
The stumbling block to a Silver Spring move has been the five commissioners, who officially speak for the NRC. "They're political appointees and they want to stay near the White House, not out of sight and out of mind in Silver Spring," said NTEU vice president George Barber. "In fact, years ago, they used to have a second set of offices out in Bethesda, the historic hub of NRC operations. But they never used them."
The agency's official policy has always been "total consolidation within the District of Columbia," William Dircks, NRC's executive director for operations, wrote to GSA this spring.
Because of the commissioners' opposition, GSA has requested no money from Congress for a Silver Spring building in fiscal 1983. A GSA spokesman said last week the NRC is now expected to remain indefinitely in its present scattered locations.
Montgomery County officials, who made the NRC move to Silver Spring a high-priority item only two years ago, are not too upset, because the Bethesda NRC employes will still work in the county and because Silver Spring no longer needs the NRC as much as it did two years ago.
"We hoped the NRC would spur development in Silver Spring, and I think it will slow down development" because it's not coming, says planner Spivak. "But there's now a lot of other development going on, with one building nearing completion and four or five others under construction or in the works."
"It was a dream in any event," said Robert Metz, a member of the Silver Spring Revitalization Task Force and the Chamber of Commerce. "There's now a lot of other building activity to fill the vacuum. I don't think we'll even feel the loss of the NRC."
County officials and Maryland's congressional delegation lobbied vigorously for the Silver Spring NRC headquarters and, if they are not claiming any victories, they at least are not admitting defeat.
"As far as the county executive is concerned it's still alive," even if nothing happens for several years, said Alistair McArthur, the county's assistant chief administrator, who pointed out that Congress authorized the move to Silver Spring.
Dustin Finney, a spokesman for Rep. Mike Barnes (D-Md.), said that although the Office of Management and Budget has requested no money even to plan a Silver Spring site, "it's possible this administration or the next could ask to go to Silver Spring." The free site opposite the Metro station may be lost, "but remember, Congress didn't authorize a particular site, it just said Silver Spring . . . so there's still hope."