D.C. Officials Laud Headquarters Choice as Va. Leaders Stew
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 24, 2003; Page A10
The new Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Northwest Washington
gives the fledgling Cabinet agency tight security and ample room to grow,
features that may factor into any future search for a permanent home, officials
said yesterday. As the department began talks with the Navy to occupy several
buildings at the Naval District of Washington's 38-acre Nebraska Avenue complex,
Virginia lawmakers quietly fumed and District leaders and their Democratic
supporters in the House took some credit for the location choice. Though
city officials and neighborhood leaders worried over the impact on traffic
and parking, they welcomed the surprise decision to base the government's
third-largest department in the District with a jolt of civic pride, pleased
at beating out the competition from Northern Virginia, for now.
As the base sealed off media access yesterday and prepared for the first
of about 100 staff members to begin moving in Monday, Ridge's office expanded
on its reasons for choosing the base over a
Northern Virginia office
building, as recommended by the General Services Administration after
a two-month search. A letter dated Wednesday from the department's transition
chief of staff, Bruce M. Lawlor, to GSA Administrator Stephen A. Perry said
the government's real estate arm did not treat security as the highest priority
when it recommended a suburban site outside the commercial no-fly zone over
Washington. Ridge spokesman Gordon Johndroe brushed off criticism from Capitol
Hill and the GSA that the department's security requirements had changed
as late as Wednesday. Johndroe said other advantages at the Washington site
include operational readiness, proximity to Washington decision makers and
cost. Homeland Security was prepared to spend up to $250 million for a 10-year
lease in Northern Virginia. Johndroe said the lease costs at the D.C. site
were not immediately available.
Virginia lawmakers grumbled that both Homeland Security and GSA would face
a changed "political dynamic" from their members, who spearheaded the Bush
administration's effort to push a controversial lease approval through the
Congress this month on assurances that Northern Virginia was the choice.
Instead, two hours after the Senate confirmed Ridge's nomination as secretary,
several Virginia congressional officials said, a junior aide was dispatched
to say that the highly sought-after deal was dead. Capitol Hill sources said
they were told by GSA that Ridge rejected the Virginia site after inspecting
it Sunday. Johndroe said that multiple people were involved in the decision.
In the end, the selection of the Nebraska Avenue complex, which already houses
a $14 million homeland security command center, opens a new chapter for a
Navy base that was home to the Mount Vernon Seminary before it was commandered
by the government in 1942. The site, which is served by six Metro bus lines
and two nearby Metro rail stations, is an electronics warfare center that
at its peak during the Cold War occupied 32 buildings and housed more than
2,300 workers. About 1,100 people are employed at the site, which is shrinking
through redeployments. The Navy has said the site contains about 566,000
square feet of office space. Homeland Security will flesh out the headquarters'
size and moving timetable over a five-week transition period.
Staff writer Craig Timberg and news researchers Mary Lou White and Lucy
Shackelford contributed to this report.