House members from Virginia, Ohio and California yesterday assailed new Defense Department security requirements that they said would effectively bar military employees from working in leased commercial buildings in major U.S. cities from New York to San Diego.
At a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee, lawmakers criticized Pentagon representatives and a pending national military streamlining plan that would reduce forces at 800 installations to save $49 billion over 20 years.
"You are not going to get this funded. You are not going to get it funded in the House. You are not going to get it funded in the Senate," committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) told Defense officials led by Get W. Moy, a director with the undersecretary responsible for installations and environment. Congress will never vote to construct office buildings at the expense of military pay, housing and battlefield technology, he said: "It's a zero-sum game."
The base closing plan cites security needs for leased space -- such as a rule that such buildings be set back up to 148 feet from traffic to protect them from truck bombs -- as a reason to shift 23,000 Defense workers from the Northern Virginia suburbs onto secure bases by 2011. Members called the standards arbitrary and excessive compared with those developed jointly by other U.S. agencies.
"Why do you think you're so special compared with the intelligence and other federal agencies?" Davis asked, citing a 1995 presidential directive for federal agencies to develop uniform security rules after the Oklahoma City federal building bombing killed 168 people.
"Why are you so different than everybody else that you could walk away instead of working with an executive order that asks for coordination?" he asked.
Moy said the Pentagon acted faster than other agencies to defend itself, especially from truck bombs, after the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia killed 19 U.S. service members.
The Pentagon's anti-terrorism force-protection standards, or Unified Facilities Criteria, were revised to address leased space in 2002 and are "specifically focused on protecting military personnel and missions from terrorist threats," Moy said. "The department feels that vehicle-borne threats are very much a serious threat . . . that must be considered in any security plan."
By comparison, the Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration issued guidelines for leased space for most other U.S. agencies in February, said Dwight M. Williams, chief security officer for Homeland Security.
Unlike the military criteria, the Interagency Security Committee guidelines generally do not prescribe mandatory standoff distances from streets, specify blast resistance for walls and windows or bar all public access to underground parking. Instead, civilian agencies generally can negotiate with building owners and developers to meet varying security performance levels, Williams said.
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said it will be nearly impossible for military leases to satisfy standoff distance requirements in dense, downtown areas. "What kind of a message are we sending to our citizens with these kinds of security measures? That it is less safe to live in urban areas?" he asked.
Members criticized the secrecy of Pentagon deliberations to disperse facilities from the national capital area, and Davis threatened several times to subpoena records justifying Defense decisions.
The exchanges come as members of Congress lobby against proposed Defense Department cuts affecting their districts.
An independent nine-member federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission is expected to propose a final version of the plan Sept. 8 to the president, who with Congress must approve or reject the plan without making changes.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, testified to the commission this month that Defense officials violated the law governing the base closing process by targeting military workers in leased office space near the capital for security reasons, instead of cost savings or military value.