Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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The week that brought release of an un-humble memoir from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also brought home one of Rummy’s less celebrated legacies: The rubber now meeting the road as local officials carry out the fiats of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

I had a hunch Rumsfeld might apologize for the traffic snarls the BRAC will soon visit on Arlington and environs.

But before I could score a copy of his confessions, the National Academy of Sciences on Feb. 7 released a study requested by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. It implored the Pentagon to cough up some semolians to pay for the highway access improvements that must ride sidecar to the pending move of 17,000 from Arlington to allegedly safer sites at Ft. Belvoir and elsewhere.

Then on Feb. 9, the Arlington Committee of 100 hosted a talk by three Arlington officials charged with mitigating the BRAC’s impact on our economy. They explained how since Arlington’s BRAC Task Force was set up in January 2006, the BRAC has been considered an economic emergency.

Arlington is suffering more job losses than any of the other nine localities impacted by the 2005 BRAC. The percentage of office space in transition is 76.8 percent of Crystal City’s, 12.8 percent of Rosslyn’s, 8.5 percent of Ballston’s, 1.8 percent of Pentagon City’s and 0.1 percent of those near the courthouse.

The Arlington team has offered job counseling services and has been meeting with defense contractors, small businesses and vendors whose livelihoods are thrown askew by the potential emptying of 4.2 million square feet of office space.

The officials are operating, all three assert, with only minimal data from liaisons at the Defense Department and the General Services Administration. That’s one reason, said Arlington BRAC project coordinator Andrea Morris, that for many Arlingtonians, “BRAC is a four-letter word.”

The information coveted by the BRAC Transition Center includes the number of employees opting to keep their jobs in the departing Army, Air Force and defense intelligence agencies; the timetable for their moves (beyond the official Sept. 15, 2011, deadline); and the fate of leases in the affected Arlington buildings.

The Pentagon’s interest, said Sandra Smith, the Arlington BRAC Transition Center’s employment specialist, is to have as many employees as possible make the move, but “our interest is to tell them, ‘You have other options.'” The BRAC “happens to the families,” Smith said, and many employees consider family first.

Defense contractors and Crystal Underground retailers are facing a “withering exodus of customers,” said Adam Beebe, the center’s business development manager. Many are facing “tough, bottom-line decisions” on whether they have enough federal work to maintain their Arlington location.

The need to ease the uncertainty vindicates the county’s early strategy of taking on the BRAC changes proactively.

The swirl of politics, economics and personalities that informed the BRAC process produced important, if painful, moves to rationalize the nation’s obligations in defense spending.

But the leaders seemed tone-deaf to their impact on traffic. How else would they move 6,400 jobs to the Stalinesque Mark Center on Alexandria’s Seminary Road and 1,200 jobs to the National Guard facility at Arlington Hall with nary a public transportation option in sight?

A quick check of the Rumsfeld memoir reveals it addresses the BRAC only in a footnote. Rummy hails it for the money it saves.

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]

 

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