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Lawmakers Call Office Closures Illegal

Brain drain cited during BRAC hearing.

At a hearing of the Defense Department’s Base Relocation and Closure Committee (BRAC) in Arlington Thursday, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) said the panel’s recommendations — shutting down 140 Northern Virginia office buildings leased by the Pentagon because of new security standards — violate the law.

"I know the law, particularly this law," said Warner, a 17-year veteran of the Senate Arms Services Committee and co-author of the current BRAC guidelines. "I regret to say that, with the best intentions, the Secretary of Defense made recommendations that are not in keeping with the structure of this law."

Warner said the Pentagon’s order to close the offices through the BRAC process is illegal because the law states under Title 10 that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld must evaluate every military installation without prejudice. Rumsfeld enacted the new standards in 2004.

Warner added that the security standards are outside the BRAC’s assigned criteria for determining which bases to close and that data used by the Defense Department to project a cost savings through the closures was never verified.

"Therefore, I feel that in fairness, as you go through the recommendations, you will have to reject some of the Secretary’s requests," Warner said.

THE SENATOR was joined by lawmakers and business figures from communities throughout the Northern Virginia along with Gov. Mark Warner, who said the Pentagon’s new regulations are "unnecessary, inordinately expensive and inconsistent with BRAC legislation."

Warner stressed that Virginia bases are equipped to expand if need be but criticized the Defense Department for failing to look at alternatives to closing bases in Virginia proposed by the state and local governments.

Arlington has proposed two sites for the Pentagon to consider that would keep an estimated 20,000 defense workers in the county. Local officials project 8 million square feet of leased office space in Arlington, accounting for more than two-thirds of the leased office market, will empty after the closures.

The regulations, designed to guard defense offices from bombing attacks, mandate a 148 foot distance must exist between the buildings and public streets. Arlington’s many mixed-use office buildings — with subterranean parking garages and retail space on the street level — do not fit those criteria.

Turning to other parts of the state, Warner said the closure of the Navy’s shipyard in Norfolk would require a massive environmental clean-up operation costing the Defense Department more than $1 billion.

Sen. George Allen (R-VA) said moving defense agency employees, many of them trained technical staff, to bases in Alabama, Texas and Arkansas will damage the military’s ability to coordinate operations.

In Northern Virginia, Allen said, the network of agencies and contractors creates a cooperative partnership that could be lost. Many workers assigned to move, he added, will quit rather than leave the Washington area and will take on better paying jobs in the private sector. Of the Defense Department staff ordered to move in the last round of BRAC closures, Allen said, only 25 percent relocated.

"These highly skilled, intellectual men and women are vital to our armed forces," said Allen, adding that the Defense Department will have to hire new staff and get trainees high security clearance, a task that takes time and money.

Making a further financial case for keeping leased Defense offices in Arlington, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) said the Office of Naval Research spent more than $12 million on construction and security upgrades its current complex in Ballston before the Pentagon ordered its staff to move. The Defense Intelligence Systems Agency’s (DISA) spent a similar sum bringing its Arlington offices up to code, Moran said, but Rumsfeld’s new standards mean the Defense Department will spend about $166 million by moving DISA to Ft. Meade.

"The regulations can be shown to be more expensive, unjustified and, in fact, harmful," Moran said.

ARLINGTON COUNTY Board Chairman Jay Fisette cautioned the panel that moving defense offices out of the fear they might become terrorist targets could be seen as a sign of weakness.

"It would be the ultimate win for the terrorists," Fisette said.

Fisette said Arlington’s firefighters, police and rescue workers were the first response units on the scene after terrorists crashed a passenger jet into the Pentagon during the 9-11 attacks and the county is prepared to meet the Defense Department’s security needs.

"Any anti-terrorism standards can be met in Arlington," said Fisette. "It is not a time in our county’s history for us to be distracted by a seriously flawed analysis."

On BRAC’s current list, Fisette asked for the panel to open a dialogue about office relocations.

"If you won’t remove the leased office space, at least open the window," he said.

Along with the political figures testifying before the committee, many of Northern Virginia’s top executives from defense contracting and real estate companies attended the hearing. John Shooshan, president of commercial real estate corporation, The Shooshan Companies, said anti-terrorism standards are closing offices on some of his property.

"This is capricious," said Shooshan. "They could accomplish the same goals without moving and obviously this would not be positive for the region."

Shooshan added that many defense workers are planning to remain in Northern Virginia after the Pentagon pulls out and defense agencies will have a hard time finding new staff.