Lawmakers push for headquarters in Md.

But Homeland Security seems to be looking to N. Virginia, reports say

January 09, 2003|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Maryland lawmakers are making a last-ditch effort to bring the new Department of Homeland Security to the state despite clear signs that the agency's headquarters is headed for Northern Virginia.

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski circulated a letter to members of the Maryland delegation yesterday urging Maryland's Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to use whatever influence he could muster to stop the reported selection of a Virginia site.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, both Democrats, sharply criticized a provision inserted into an emergency funding measure yesterday that would give the Bush administration freedom to sign a building lease for the new headquarters without congressional approval.

At stake is hundreds of millions of dollars in potential rent and revenues over the next 10 years for a temporary home for the new department, which will oversee some 177,000 employees around the country.

While there has been talk that the department might build a campus of its own some day, administration officials say that where the department lands this year is likely where it will stay for good.

If Virginia is chosen, it would make the new department the first Cabinet agency in more than 50 years to have its headquarters located outside Washington, D.C.

Locating the department in Virginia would be a financial boon to the state and to the area immediately around the chosen site, through improvements, real estate prices and developments. The Washington Post, quoting unnamed real estate and congressional sources, reported yesterday that three Northern Virginia sites were under consideration, including two near Tysons Corner and a third in Chantilly.

More than 22 existing agencies will become part of the new department over the next few months, including the Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Customs Service.

Officials from Ehrlich's office said they're still holding out hope that Maryland could land the headquarters.

"We're going to keep trying," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. The governor-elect "has had informal conversations over the past few months with the White House and agencies that will become part of the department. We haven't been contacted yet by the White House or Homeland Security Department, or told that a decision has been made. We're still hoping."

A Bush administration official confirmed that the new department is focusing on sites in suburban Virginia. The official said the area offers the "space, ability to expand and security" the department needs.

The department's initial request for possible sites in the Washington region called for an "office park setting" and parking for 1,000 people, all but ruling out the District of Columbia.

Norton, the District's nonvoting delegate in Congress, said she was especially concerned with a provision in an emergency funding measure that is expected to gain final congressional approval today. It would put the building lease on a fast track, skipping the normal review process by Congress.

"The District was denied even the semblance of a fair chance to compete," Norton said, adding that she will push to enforce a federal law that, she says, requires the permanent headquarters of all government departments to be located in D.C.

Hoyer also took exception to the fast-track provision.

"Ramming this provision through the House is unfair ... to the jurisdictions who were bidding for the site of the headquarters [and] doesn't take into consideration the needs of the employees whose lives will drastically shift when the site is complete," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

Some lawmakers also questioned why the administration was seeking to rent, rather than buy, space.

The soon-to-open Homeland Security Department, which now has more than 140 employees, is running most of its operations out of an office building at 18th and G streets in the District. On Jan. 24, when the department is scheduled to officially come into existence, it will have more than $140 million for transition expenses.

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