Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Best Spot for 6,200 Army Workers

The Best Spot for 6,200 Army Workers

Sunday, September 14, 2008; B08

The Army is nearing a decision about where at least 6,200 employees of the Defense Department's Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) and other Defense employees should work when the agency moves out of leased space in Crystal City, as mandated by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). Two sites in Alexandria and one in Springfield are under consideration for the WHS offices. The Springfield site -- which is occupied by warehouses operated by the General Services Administration (GSA) -- is the only one that offers the Army a secure and accessible location for its current and future needs, meets BRAC-related goals, and saves taxpayers money.

Of primary importance today is security, and the Springfield site offers a far more secure location because it is much larger than the Victory Center site off Eisenhower Avenue and the Mark Center site off Seminary Road. The Springfield site has 70 acres. The Victory Center encompasses 16 acres (which had been home to the Army Materiel Command until it moved in 2003 to more secure quarters at Fort Belvoir), and the Mark Center proposal includes about 24 acres. Because of its size, the Springfield site is the only one that can offer the full 148-foot setbacks that Defense Department officials require for secure locations.

Larger setbacks mean less taxpayer money is needed to make buildings secure. Further, the Springfield site is large enough to accommodate future expansion, and land is available on adjacent privately owned sites in case contractors want to locate facilities nearby.

The Springfield location also offers far better access for drivers, carpoolers and those who use public transportation. The GSA warehouses are close to Interstates 95 and 395, the Capital Beltway and the Fairfax County and Franconia-Springfield parkways. Springfield's location as the southernmost option, and its proximity to all these major highways is important because Army analysis has shown that most WHS employees live south of the site.

The GSA site also is less than half a mile from the Joe Alexander Transportation Center, which includes the Franconia-Springfield Metro station (terminus of the Blue Line, which also serves the Pentagon), a Virginia Railway Express stop, and commuter and intercity bus hubs. The Mark Center and Victory Center sites cannot match this multimodal transportation infrastructure.

Congress specified that underused military or federal government properties should be used for Defense Department operations moved as a result of BRAC recommendations. The Springfield site is the only one of the three options that meets that congressional intent. It already is owned by the federal government, while the Alexandria sites are privately owned.

Federal taxpayers would pay to buy the land in Alexandria, and the City of Alexandria would lose millions in revenue if either property was removed from the tax rolls -- at the same time that local governments are faced with tight budgets and the possibility of having to cut public services. The GSA site also is much closer to Fort Belvoir, which is important because the site chosen by the Army will become an administrative component of the post.

Sitting a short walk from one of the largest transportation centers in the Washington area, and in the middle of one of the most dynamic economies in the nation, GSA warehouses are no longer the best use of that site. Putting the Defense Department's Washington Headquarters Services in a quality, secure, accessible office setting would be a far better use of the land and a far better investment of taxpayer dollars than the other options under consideration.

-- Gerald L. Gordon


The writer is president and chief executive officer of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

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