- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

The Food and Drug Administration's long-awaited new headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., has encountered an 11th-hour hurdle.
Environmentalists plan to file a lawsuit today to prevent construction of the $500 million complex, saying the federal government failed to follow its own site-selection rules. The first phase of construction is scheduled to begin in late March.
The Sierra Club and two other environmental groups say the General Services Administration (GSA), the government's real-estate arm, did not conduct a thorough environmental review before deciding to build a headquarters for the FDA in the White Oak section of Silver Spring in 1995.
The environmental groups also say the agencies failed to consider sites in the District for its headquarters, another violation of federal site-selection rules.
"The FDA and the GSA completely disregarded these laws," said James Dougherty, attorney for the Sierra Club.
The groups say the consolidation will cause traffic congestion because no Metrorail station is near the White Oak facility, Mr. Dougherty said.
Anthony E. Costa, regional administrator for the GSA's public buildings service, said the agency cannot comment on the lawsuit until it has been filed.
But the agency is "pretty confident with the way the project has progressed up to this point," Mr. Costa said.
The environmental groups are seeking an injunction in U.S. District Court to prevent construction of the first phase of the headquarters project. The FDA held a ceremonial groundbreaking in October. Excavation of the site is scheduled to begin in March.
GSA plans to build a 2.3 million-square-foot complex on a 700-acre tract that was used as a Naval base from 1940 until 1997. The new facility will bring together 6,000 employees who now work in more than 40 D.C.-area offices, including the current headquarters building in Rockville, Md.
The consolidation of the offices will save the government $30 million a year in rent, according to the FDA.
Congress set aside $92 million last year to begin construction on the facility, Mr. Costa said.
The GSA has been planning to consolidate the FDA offices since 1990 and at one point considered building a campus in northern Montgomery County.
Mr. Dougherty said the Sierra Club decided to seek the injunction when GSA failed to answer its questions about the project's potential environmental impact during the planning process, which began in 1995.
The Sierra Club views the lawsuit as one of its last options, Mr. Dougherty said. Since the group failed to kill the project during the years-long planning process, it decided to sue when Congress approved the funding last year, he said.
The lawsuit filing comes one week after Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr., Tennessee Republican, wrote to GSA questioning the cost of the project.
"I do not believe that GSA or the FDA have provided us with the information we should have before making this type of commitment with taxpayer dollars," Mr. Duncan wrote.
He also opposed the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the 3.1 million-square-foot federal office complex built in the District in 1998, and he helped kill plans for a federal courthouse complex in Savannah, Ga.
Citizens Against Government Waste, a D.C.-based watchdog group, has opposed the White Oak project for years. "It amounts to a boondoggle for Maryland," said Elizabeth L. Wright, the group's health and science director.
Mr. Costa said his agency has prepared a written response to Mr. Duncan's letter. "Frankly, these questions are easy to answer because they've been asked before," Mr. Costa said.
A senior FDA official who asked not to be identified said the agency takes the lawsuit and Mr. Duncan's concerns "very seriously" but is confident the headquarters will be built on schedule.
Other major federal office projects in the D.C. area have generated similar opposition. In 1998, the Securities and Exchange Commission considered moving to Silver Spring but decided against it after bowing to political pressure. District officials said they did not want to lose the commission's 1,800 jobs.
Meanwhile, a decision on a new location for the Department of Transportation has been delayed several months while federal budget analysts study the cost of the move.

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