Recently a colleague and I visited with the editorial board of one of the region's newspapers. Our main purpose was to provide background on BRAC at Fort Belvoir to help them understand the issues as they continue to cover the post in the various editions of their papers. Owing to recent media coverage, most of our discussion centered around the schools issue, as well as questions about 6,200 DOD jobs covered in BRAC Recommendation #133, part of the total 19,300 jobs being moved to Fort Belvoir.
We began with discussion of the many ideas over the years for Fort Belvoir’s development, even pre-BRAC, in terms of what various elected and military leaders for nearly 20 years have seen as the best use of the post’s land and facilities. The editors seemed especially interested in the fact that what Fort Belvoir will become under BRAC 2005 realignment is really not any different from those long-held visions: that Fort Belvoir can be home to a great many agencies presently scattered in leased space “around the beltway,” saving the taxpayer millions in federal dollars now used to pay rent. BRAC 2005 actually formalizes that thinking, and stipulates that Fort Belvoir is to become the “major support platform” for military leadership in the region. Indeed, since the Army moved its Engineer center and school from Fort Belvoir in 1989 under previous BRAC legislation, the post has already been transformed into a major administrative, logistical and intelligence center. BRAC 2005 adds such functions to the post, promising even more efficient use of public resources entrusted to the DOD for providing national security.
We emphasized that more than 95 percent of the people in the incoming jobs are already in the region. BRAC 133 best illustrate that. We pointed to an error in one recent article regarding extension of leases for rented space these agencies presently occupy in Crystal City, Reston and elsewhere around the beltway. We explained that BRAC 133 is part of the Headquarters and Support Activities section of the BRAC Commission’s Final Report. We explained how ONE of the agencies is the Washington Headquarters Service, whose work includes being “landlord” for the other DOD agencies. We explained that part of WHS’ mission includes being lead manager, or “executor,” to get the 6,200 jobs – including their own of a little over 1,000 – moved to Fort Belvoir. Since the article, we have taken query from other media and the public about whether the lease extensions mean the BRAC 133 move has been delayed. No. The leases were renewed simply because they were about to expire. The leases cover agencies beyond those of BRAC 133. These other agencies will stay put or go elsewhere after the BRAC 133 jobs move to Fort Belvoir.
We discussed the schools issue and last year’s BRAC impact study by the Workforce Integration Board. There are those who believe the Army changed its projected number of students downward based on the WIB study. That isn’t so, of course. The WIB report’s release last summer was coincidental to release of the Army’s Final Environmental Impact Study. No one at Fort Belvoir or at Army even knew about the WIB study until it hit the streets. There is no basis to the idea that the WIB study prompted Army to lower its school figure from what was in the Draft EIS (3,258). In fact, that number carried forward because it is tied to the number of jobs moving to Belvoir. Indeed, the reduced projection in the FEIS is just more than five times greater than what the WIB study projects. While WIB projects “about 50 students” coming into Fairfax County with BRAC, the FEIS suggests 267, demonstrating the two reports aren’t related.
What’s different in the FEIS is the more complete analysis and discussion of 14,500 DOD jobs BRAC 2005 takes completely from this region to Texas, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, and elsewhere. It also describes the extent to which nearly all of the 19,300 jobs moving to Fort Belvoir are filled by people who already live here, whose school children are already enrolled here. We described for the editorial board Dr Jack Dale’s “Where will they live?” point in which he is on record saying that, to know what school infrastructure is needed, Fairfax County Public Schools and the school board are largely dependent on local government’s planning & zoning decisions on where houses will be built. One of the editors commented that she understands the issue, considering that she lives in Columbia, Md., and commutes to work in Reston every day. I could only smile, realizing her realization!
I did express my own dismay over how there are those who hang onto the 3,258 from the DRAFT study released in the Spring of 2007 – reinforcing the credibility of that number every time they use it – and yet, they completely discount any of the follow-on work. So MUCH of that work was prompted by community response to the draft which helped the Army realize it’s shortcoming in the first place. Yet many continue to ignore the later work. Indeed, just this week, one media account quoted one official saying, “the school board and staff largely distrust the accuracy of the Army’s figures ...,” an absolutely stunning point when you consider that the 3,258 number itself is an ARMY figure! I asked the editorial board to consider the question, “How is only that number credible, but not the more precise, additional data?”
The board asked us questions like, “What about the contractors that will move here?” and “What about new employees that come later when the current employees retire or move on?” To the former, we answered we have no real visibility on what commercial businesses may or may not decide to do. I said I can only assume that would be a good thing for the region’s tax base and plans of the community and its leadership for the region’s revitalization. To the latter, we said that, in the National Capital Region – the seat of the federal government – the workforce ebbs and flows continually and often dramatically. That isn’t driven at all by BRAC, nor is it even particularly unique to DOD or the military installations here. Federal employment practice often means replacements are hired from outside the region, and move here with their kids and cars. But, that’s true whether their job is at the Department of Justice or Department of Defense, in Crystal City or at Fort Belvoir.
The editorial board meeting ended with questions about proposed legislation that would delay the BRAC realignment of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and construction of the new hospital at Fort Belvoir. We said we can't speak to that, since the legislation is only in draft. Our work continues, to include construction of the hospital. A reporter asked whether we would put people in trailers if the hospital and other new buildings aren’t finished on time. I told him the buildings will be up. He said people keep telling him there is no penalty if we don’t finish by September 2011. To speak to that would be hypothetical, I told him, because, again, the point is we will finish on time. That’s the law.
I entitled this note, "FORT BELVOIR: Helping the media tell the story." I hope the readers of this Forum also find it useful. If you have any questions, please post them here, or send them to me privately at email@example.com
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Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/07/2008 03:39PM by Don Carr.