Defense workers and contractors said yesterday that a Pentagon plan to shift 23,000 military jobs from inside the Capital Beltway would prompt skilled workers to abandon government employment before disrupting their families' lives.
At a town meeting attended by about 300 people at George Mason University's law school in Arlington, every person who queued up to speak opposed the provision within the Defense Department's national streamlining plan, with several saying it would hamper the military's mission and raise costs by triggering a "brain drain" of employees now working in leased office space in Arlington County and Alexandria near the department's Pentagon headquarters.
The Pentagon's plan was announced last month and cited economic and security reasons for consolidating jobs away from Washington and its close-in suburbs.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), the Virginia congressman who represents the areas most affected, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called yesterday's meeting to collect information from those opposed to the changes before testifying July 7 before a nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
The commission will act on the Pentagon proposal and is the final arbiter of base cuts and moves. It will present its list to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president and Congress must accept or reject the list without changes.
Yesterday, federal lawmakers and Virginia and Arlington County officials urged workers and others affected by the changes to telephone, send letters or e-mail their member of Congress or the federal commission.
Arlington economic development agency workers handed out blue and white bumper stickers and buttons that said "Save the Brains -- Keep DoD Jobs in Arlington," while Moran aides distributed a survey asking, "Are you likely to move where your agency has been recommended to relocate to?"
From comments by more than a dozen public speakers over the hour-long hearing, the answer was clearly no. The business-attired crowd was targeted by congressional aides, who timed the event for defense workers' lunch hour and set it in a Ballston-Clarendon-Rosslyn corridor where 30 defense agencies within four Metro stops of the Pentagon are slated for relocation.
The Pentagon says its plan will save $49 billion nationwide over 20 years. The District, Arlington and Alexandria are set to lose about 30,000 jobs, one of the biggest cuts in the country. However, secure, suburban military bases such as Fort Belvoir in southeast Fairfax County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County would gain more than 20,000 workers. Most area jobs appear to be set to move nearby, but some would be relocated as far away as Texas, Alabama and Kentucky.
According to Moran's office, 32 of 36 military workers who responded to yesterday's survey, or 89 percent, said they would not move with their agencies.
"My point of view is, hell no, I won't go," said Thomas F. Hafer, senior program manager of Science and Technology Associates Inc., whose work defending troops from rocket-propelled grenades is in use in Iraq. "I'll flip hamburgers in Arlington before I have to commute or relocate over to Bethesda."
Hillary Morgan, who works for the Defense Information Systems Agency, said the ability of staff members to work with defense and civilian agencies in Washington from a proposed new home at Fort Meade "will decline, because they are going to be out of the office for hours commuting back and forth. The loss of productivity will be tremendous."
Area lawmakers expressed optimism at making limited changes.
Davis said he saw "a reasonable chance" to reverse some changes because the Pentagon cited three goals from Northern Virginia relocations not explicitly included among eight criteria that govern the base-closing process -- eliminating leased defense space, increasing building security and dispersing facilities from the national capital area.
Warner said he agreed with the Pentagon that the law covered its interpretation of security requirements for facilities, but he added that, "clearly, in one or two cases . . . it's a legitimate question to raise."