The pending relocation of 22,000 Defense Department employees has Arlington officials asking the federal government for an investment in transportation infrastructure to handle the resulting dramatic changes in commuter traffic that many expect.
"The Defense Department has an obligation to this region," said County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, who added that the county is working with a team of consultants and staff members to seek defense department funds. "It is one we hope they will take seriously and work with us to address."
Fisette and other county officials believe the removal of defense offices to areas outside Arlington— many are being sent to Ft. Belvoir— will almost reverse the flow of traffic patterns in some areas, creating the potential for severe delays and congestion. Because Ft. Belvoir is not on a Metro line, Fisette said that means the county will see more cars on roads like Route 1. Washington Blvd could also see more traffic. Fisette and other local leaders have said they may petition for funding to extend Metro South to the base. The Defense Department has not commented on the likelihood of whether that funding will be granted.
THE CURRENT LIST of office closings could signal an economic down-turn for Arlington County. Defense agencies account for more than 60 percent of leased office space in Arlington — about 140 buildings. The closures come with the enactment of Department of Defense security standards that require defense installations to be set back 140 feet from public streets. The intent, according to DOD, is to safeguard offices from terrorist bombing. On the list for closure or realignment in Arlington is the Logicon Building, which houses the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operation (JTF—GNO) and its employees along with the Defense Intelligence Systems Agency (DISA). Both are slated for removal to Ft. Meade. The defense office at Rosslyn Plaza North will also be moved. Its destination is unknown but according to an internal memo from the office of Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), the office is taking more than 6,000 jobs with it over the next five years. The headquarters for the Missile Defense Agency at a building near the Pentagon could be moved to Ft. Belvoir and to the Redstone Arsenal complex in Alabama. That agency has offices in Crystal City that may also be located to Redstone. Almost 3,000 jobs, for both direct employees of the agency and contractors who work with it, could be going South with it. Other administrative offices for the Defense Department like its human resources division—housed in a building on Wilson Blvd— could move to Ft. Belvoir along with the Office of the Sec. of Defense and the Defense Contract Management Agency. Numerous other installations, ranging from large complexes like the 3 Crystal Gateway Buildings to smaller offices, could be sent elsewhere. The final draft of the list is subject to approval by Congress and President Bush but Moran has said that Arlington cannot expect significant change to what's on the chopping block.
YET THE MESSAGE from the county is not all doom and gloom. Board member Chris Zimmerman said although Arlington could feel a slight economic tremor, it has other assets. Zimmerman pointed to the last round of base closings, when the county lost significant naval offices in Crystal City, as an example.
"Some people though that would be the end of Crystal City," said Zimmerman. "In truth, a lot of the changes resulted in some positive stuff."
Zimmerman pointed out that until then, the county had no office for economic development. The loss of the defense offices, he said, caused the county to organize its economic efforts and capitalize on its strengths.
"We needed to look for those niches in the economy where we have an advantage and exploit them as much as possible," said Zimmerman, citing the county's wealth of high technology companies, trade associations and its healthy tourism industry. "We have a much more diverse economic base now."
Board member Paul Ferguson echoed that statement, adding that "as much as we value our government tenants, they don't pay the full range of taxes as those in the private sector do."
Commander of Ft. Belvoir, Thomas W. Williams, defended the proposed relocations as sound defense policy.
"Consolidating operations at select bases is necessary for transforming the Army into the force America needs in a changing world with new threats," said Williams. "While growth should have a positive impact on the community, we understand that it must be managed carefully so that the quality of life for our soldiers and their families not only stays the same, but improves. We will work hand-in-hand with our local leaders and elected officials to maximize benefits and minimize inconveniences to our neighbors."
Ft. Belvoir will see an estimated total of 17,500 new personnel as a result of the relocations.