A June 17 Metro article about plans to keep the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the District misstated the number of workers who would be based at the facility. The agency expects to increase its staff at the Nebraska Avenue complex from 1,300 workers now to as many as 2,000 workers in the coming year. (Published 6/18/04)
The Department of Homeland Security will keep its permanent headquarters in Northwest Washington for at least five years and possibly longer while it consolidates operations now spread across 5 million square feet of office space throughout the region, Bush administration officials said yesterday.
District officials hailed the decision and related legislation as an economic victory that will keep thousands of federal jobs in the city. Real estate analysts said the department's plans will shape the market across the Washington area, particularly in areas where large commercial spaces are available, such as Silver Spring and Dulles.
Homeland Security, which has 180,000 workers across the country, plans to roughly double the number of top employees -- currently about 2,000 people -- who are based at the Nebraska Avenue Naval Complex, and spend $75 million on technological upgrades over five years. The Navy will move out 1,147 workers by January, many to sites in Virginia, Maryland and the District, said a spokesman for the Naval District of Washington.
"We are pleased that Congress appears ready to meet our requirements to have the Department of Homeland Security headquarters located at the Nebraska Avenue Complex for the foreseeable future," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
Another senior department official cautioned against seeing the decision as only "a short-term fix."
"It doesn't rule this place out from being the headquarters 10 years from now," the official said. "This is a serious step for us to have a consolidated headquarters, and then to take a look at what we have in the national capital region to see what the strategy going forward will be."
The Senate was set to approve, as early as last night, legislation sought by the Bush administration that requires the Navy to give up control of the 38-acre complex by Jan. 1. The site, which served as an electronic warfare center during the Cold War, has been used as Homeland Security headquarters since the agency was created in March 2003.
The House passed similar legislation Monday. The bill directs that the Navy be compensated for its costs, about $25 million, and that it turn over the land to the General Services Administration, the agency that serves as the federal landlord.
This summer, the GSA expects to complete an inventory of all Washington area real estate occupied by the 22 agencies that are part of Homeland Security. The aim is to produce a "long-term housing strategy" for what is now the federal government's largest Cabinet department, GSA capital area spokesman Mike McGill said.
Ridge's top aides and GSA Administrator Stephen A. Perry urged Congress to keep the headquarters because of the location, security and recent improvements, including a $14 million national 24-hour emergency operations center.
Homeland Security officials said the move would allow them to keep top aides in close contact with the White House and Congress.
"We've tried to build one Department of Homeland Security culture. It's hard to do that when you're split up in all these places," said the senior department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of reorganizing the department among constituent agencies and Congress, which pays the bills.
"We need the information to see where we can foster efficiency and consolidation," the official said. "Obviously we're talking about a lot of taxpayer funds."
Homeland Security's office space, while about double that of the Justice Department, is a fraction of the region's 360 million-square-foot commercial market. Greg Leisch, chief executive of Delta Associates, a real estate firm advising GSA on some homeland security-related issues, said the suburbs could gain if the department centralizes blocs of 2,000 to 3,000 workers in eight or so locations in the short-term.
"It can have a positive influence in certain pockets," Leisch said. "There are only so many places that have that scale of space available."
The Homeland Security complex, at Nebraska and Massachusetts avenues NW, is on one of Washington's highest points, about five miles from the White House and one mile from the vice president's residence. The site, a former women's seminary that was commandeered at the start of World War II, consists of 33 Georgian brick buildings dating to the 1920s and 556,000 square feet of office space.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had pressed for the department to be based in Northern Virginia but deferred to Ridge, Warner's spokesman said.
"My top priority is to protect our homeland; and this is another step in that direction, which Virginians will support," Warner said. He said he welcomed consideration by Navy Secretary Gordon R. England to relocate as many workers as possible to Virginia bases.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said the District is the big winner, noting that a relocation of headquarters could have lost the city more than $171 million over five years. Norton said the agency is now in the District for good.
"It was unthinkable that such an important Cabinet department would be located outside the city," Norton said.
Staff writer Neil Irwin contributed to this report.