- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Military medical facilities should not be moved to suburban Maryland, congressional leaders from the District and Virginia testified yesterday, arguing the location is too far from the Pentagon.

The Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission, also known as BRAC, is considering a proposal to create a joint medical command headquarters in Bethesda by consolidating medical offices for the Air Force, Navy and the military’s TRICARE health system.

Some of the offices to be consolidated are in leased space in Fairfax County that does not meet military anti-terrorism standards.

“Approximately 70 percent of the personnel at these facilities live in Northern Virginia,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat. “It only takes them a few minutes to get to the Pentagon and up to two hours [to get to] Bethesda.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, suggested Bolling Air Force Base as an alternative and suitable site for a consolidated medical-command center.

But she agreed with Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, that such a decision was not under the commission’s authority. The commission is considering the consolidation plan, though a Pentagon study already rejected the Bethesda site.

The commission is working to deliver a report to President Bush by Sept. 8. Officials have said Northern Virginia could lose 50,000 jobs by the end of the decade.

State officials said the commission was showing its bias against leased office space and its disregard for the region’s heavy traffic congestion.

Forcing thousands more employees to commute around the Capital Beltway could encourage them to seek work in the private sector, said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.

“What you don’t want to do is gut the brain trust of the work force,” he told the commission.

Fairfax County Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat, said security at leased offices could be upgraded to meet Pentagon requirements. He also said Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, a major property owner, had already committed to changes.

Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi denied that the commission was targeting leased office spaces for closure. “We’re looking at this openly and objectively,” he said.

Also at the hearing, District officials made their case that moving Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Northwest to Bethesda would cripple the city’s emergency response in a terrorist attack.

New war plans for guarding against terrorist attacks in the region would ultimately involve the personnel and facilities at Walter Reed and the city’s other hospitals, Mrs. Norton said.

Federal requirements that the city be prepared to handle a surge of medical patients in an emergency “cannot be achieved without Walter Reed’s resources,” including its helicopter port and decontamination rooms, she said.

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