- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

Business leaders and lawmakers yesterday expressed sharp reservations about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's plan to put limits on new defense construction and leasing within 100 miles of the Pentagon.
Robert A. Peck, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the region's largest chamber of commerce, said the defense chief's proposal defies logic and would endanger the region's economy.
"There is a logic to having things clustered around the nation's capital," Mr. Peck said. "I think the kind of attacks we have seen don't preclude continuing that. If the Pentagon is attacked again the way it was on September 11, does that really affect another defense agency that is 10 miles away?"
In an interview with The Washington Times published yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld confirmed that he is close to signing a directive limiting defense-related construction and leasing in the Washington area, arguing that it "is probably not a smart idea" to concentrate defense activities here.
Decentralizing the Department of Defense would help prevent disruption of government agencies in the event of another terrorist attack on Washington, defense officials said. Though members of Congress interviewed yesterday said they understood Mr. Rumsfeld's reasoning, some predicted heavy questioning on Capitol Hill.
In Arlington County, an official at the Department of Economic Development said the county's economy depends heavily on defense agencies. The Defense Department leases millions of square feet of office space in Arlington, not including the 3.7 million-square-foot Pentagon, said Terry Holzheimer, the county's director of business investment.
"We very much want to continue our relationship with the Defense Department," Mr. Holzheimer said.
A draft memorandum on the matter prepared for Mr. Rumsfeld called for curbing new construction within a 100-mile radius of the Pentagon and for limiting improvements at existing defense and military facilities in that area to $500,000 or less.
The policy change would affect about $570 million in military construction and family-housing funds set aside in the current defense budget for facilities in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Major military facilities in the region that could be affected include the Army's Fort Myer in Arlington, Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County and the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Prince William County, Va. The policy change also would limit the Defense Department's ability to lease office space in the region, a department spokeswoman said.
Not all defense agencies are located within the Pentagon's walls. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is based elsewhere in Arlington, and the Army Corps of Engineers is based in Southwest Washington.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he is "very concerned" about Mr. Rumsfeld's proposal.
Two of the largest employers in Mr. Hoyer's Southern Maryland district are the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Indian Head Division, where several new facilities have been built at the bases in recent years.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting representative in Congress, declined to comment, though she has lobbied to keep federal agencies in the city. A spokeswoman for the Democrat said she thought Mr. Rumsfeld's comments were "too vague" and not directed solely at agencies in the District.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee promised to examine the plan but said they trust Mr. Rumsfeld's intentions.
"I have a lot of confidence in Don Rumsfeld's judgment," said H. James Saxton, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services military installations and facilities subcommittee. "I'm sure that the necessary [military construction] needed near Washington will get done. I'll work with the secretary to come up with a sensible plan for new 'mil-con' work near Washington and around the country."
But a House Republican Appropriations Committee aide said that although Mr. Rumsfeld may have a point, "you're not going to stop the members from those areas from supporting upgrades and modernizations of these critical facilities."
"I'm assuming members are not going to want to be tied down by strict construction limits," the aide said, adding that he thinks Mr. Rumsfeld will run into resistance and will have to work things out case-by-case.
Several members from Virginia and Maryland, including those whose districts include affected territory, said they understood Mr. Rumsfeld's request but wanted to make certain that any proposal doesn't hurt efforts to upgrade family living quarters.
"I'm sure security is uppermost in his mind," said Rep. Ed Schrock, Virginia Republican and a Navy veteran. But he said he was sure Mr. Rumsfeld supports having good living facilities.
Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Virginia Republican, whose district includes part of Quantico Marine Corps Base, has visited the family housing there and said it was in bad shape. She said that must be taken into account when Mr. Rumsfeld presents a final proposal.
"Just because Quantico happens to be 50 miles outside of Washington, I don't see that to be any reason our Marines have to be in poverty," Mrs. Davis said.
Sallie Taylor, a spokeswoman for Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, said the congressman "agrees that not having a concentration of military bases in the Washington area would be a good thing, but without doubt, the military bases that are here should be maintained, including the family housing."
Mr. Rumsfeld told The Times in the Thursday interview: "It's a big country we've got, and everything does not have to be located in the Washington, D.C., area. I think that just the health of the country would be better if everything weren't here."
Real estate brokers said it would take years for the government to disperse its agencies outside Washington.
"The reality is that the duration of a lot of these federal leases would make it difficult for the government to just pick up and move immediately," said Audrey Z. Cramer, executive director of Cushman and Wakefield, one of the region's top commercial real estate brokerages.
Stephen Dinan and Amy Fagan contributed to this report.


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