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Moran Works to Retain Defense Agencies

Language in defense bill demands explanation of new anti-terrorism building standards

In an effort to retain defense employees and contractors in leased space in Arlington, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran(D-8) included provisions in legislation last month to require more Congressional oversight of the Department of Defense’s new controversial building standards.

Moran’s report language was included in the fiscal year 2006 Defense Appropriations Bill, and obligates the Secretary of Defense to identify the costs of the new requirements, compare them with security standards for other federal agencies and further explore new technology that could fortify existing buildings.

“They put this policy into effect without public hearings or comment from the communities most affected,” Moran said. “They never sought feedback or looked at alternatives.”

The Defense Department’s stringent Minimum Anti-terrorism Standards for Buildings, which went into affect for newly leased spaced in October, are meant to bolster security and better protect employees from terrorist attacks.

Under the new criteria, leased defense spaces must be in buildings set back up to 148 feet from the street, public access to underground parking facilities must be restricted and lower levels “hardened” to protect against a truck bomb attack. The setback requirement only applies if the Defense Department occupies more than a quarter of the square footage of a building.

In Arlington, the Defense Department currently leases 9.3 million square feet of office space, but will vacate 4.2 million square feet over the next decade as part of the federal Base Realignment and Closure process. The remaining defense agencies may be forced to abandon Arlington once their current leases expire, if they cannot find buildings that adhere to the new rules.

Critics contend that the new standards are too rigid, costly and impossible to implement in dense urban areas such as Arlington. Some government officials claimed Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld issued the standards as a way to ensure the relocation of defense agencies out of the metropolitan region

“Rumsfeld has this obsession of moving people out of the Washington area and hasn’t based it upon thoughtful analysis of the alternatives, such as better protection by blast-mitigating technology,” Moran (D-8) said.

Moran fears the move will have a detrimental effect on the regional economy and damage the nation’s defense capabilities.

“We had a synergy here that was helping the defense industry,” he said. “Arlington is a hub of the best-skilled technology people.”

MUCH OF THE criticism of the plan stems from the proscribed “one-size fits all” nature of the standards.

The Inter-agency Security Committee, an ad hoc federal planning committee absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security, has issued performance-based security standards that assesses each building on its own merits, said Mike McGill, press officer for the General Services Administration. The ISC standards take into account building size, architecture and traffic flow.

Opponents of the Defense Department’s requirements say they are costly and less effective than the ISC’s, and Moran’s insertion in the Defense Bill requires department officials to explain the discrepancy between the two sets of criteria.

“It’s an overreaction,” said County Board member Jay Fisette. “Every other department in the federal government works under performance-based standards and here you have the Defense Department creating their own.”

Pentagon officials defended the new standards and asserted they are critical to protecting employees.

“The DoD, along with other agencies with security interests need to have the ability to assign more specific standards that meets their unique needs,” said Cheryl Irwin, spokeswoman for the Defense Department.

Moran’s report language asks the Secretary of Defense to identify new “anti-blast” technology that can mitigate the threats to leased office buildings.

Recently, more than $12 million was spent on additional security to strengthen the building containing the Office of Naval Research in Ballston. But the ONR may still have to vacate the building when its lease expires because it does not conform to the new standards.

“We have technology that can protect buildings from severe damage, but the DoD has not considered them in its unilateral move,” Moran said.

Critics of the plan say existing building walls can be sufficiently hardened to provide protection against terrorist attacks, and that Pentagon officials should not base their assessments solely on the likelihood of a truck bomb attack.

“None of these new standards would have protected a building from the Sept. 11 attack, or from a mortar or biological attack,” Fisette said. “We need to look at other protective measures.”

Moran has also called on the Defense Department to make public the costs of implementing the new criteria.

The Pentagon does not have figures for the expense in Arlington, Irwin said, but in March 2004 the Defense Department estimated the cost per building would be a 15 percent premium above the average rent rate for anti-terrorism construction. Since that time, construction costs across the nation have escalated dramatically.

Gov. Mark Warner has committed to providing Arlington with $10 million if it does not to relocate agencies such as ONR within the county, Fisette said. Yet federal funds may be difficult to obtain because the money would have to come from the same appropriations bill that provides veterans’ health care, Moran said.