Homeland home

It was thought to be a done deal. The new Department of Homeland Security headquarters was to be built from the ground up in the Northern Virginia suburbs somewhere between a Super Target and a new townhouse community. It sounded logical considering the trend of federal and private sector jobs leaving the nation’s capital for the Virginia or Maryland suburbs. Why should Homeland Security be any different?

One national newspaper, quoted (as always) “anonymous sources” proclaiming that the mammoth agency, which will employ 170,000 workers from 22 government agencies, would be built in western Fairfax more specifically Chantilly or Tysons Corner.

Then the truth surfaced Wednesday evening. The Department of Homeland Security will be located in Northwest D.C. not Northern Virginia at the Naval District Washington complex on Nebraska Avenue across from American University. This was a major setback for those seeking to establish the headquarters in Chantilly, Tysons or even western Prince William (where it could have been called the “Homeland Security Town Center”).

The D.C. naval complex offers 566,000 square feet on a 38-acre site for Tom Ridge to begin combining the operations of the Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization, Coast Guard, Customs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The site is said to be only temporary but it seems to be the correct choice considering the circumstances.

While Northern Virginia is fertile ground for a new federal agency since it already houses a vast portion of the federal work force, the Bush Administration refused to be pressured into making a hasty decision on such an important task. Guidelines creating the new department required that it be up and running this month. Combining multiple government agencies, not to mention finding a permanent home, in such a short period of time was a daunting task.

Setting up shop in Washington, D.C. even if only temporarily has its benefits. It gives the new department a chance to get up and running without the hectic issues of building a physical “home” from scratch in the traffic-clogged suburbs. Neither Chantilly nor Tysons Corner are served by Metrorail and the current fiscal follies show that rail is not coming to that area anytime soon. That’s a good enough reason right there for Homeland Security officials to back away from a Northern Virginia location.

Plus, as previously reported, the naval complex already includes the technological infrastructure needed to get the department on its feet. This includes telecommunications equipment, secure phones, satellite hookups and plenty of office space.

Despite its shortcomings, it is becoming more obvious a new federal agency with the clout of Homeland Security needs to be built in the District rather than in sprawling suburbia. Washington is by no means a crowded city these days and finding a suitable home for Homeland Security within its boundaries should be a simple task.

As for Northern Virginia we still have our traffic problems and unfulfilled dreams of extended Metrorail.

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