Mikulski backs Md. site for Homeland Security

Senator proposes unit of Washington agency at NSA or Fort Meade

January 24, 2003|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Disappointed by news that the headquarters of the new Homeland Security Department will be in Washington, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is proposing that one of its units be housed in Maryland, on the campus of the National Security Agency or next door at Fort Meade.

The Maryland Democrat met with Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens this week to discuss her idea and wrote a letter yesterday to Tom Ridge, the department's newly confirmed secretary. A Mikulski aide said Homeland Security officials seemed open to the idea.

The headquarters will be located, at least temporarily, at a Navy-run site in Northwest Washington, officials said. The location, a four-story office center, is part of a 38-acre complex near Vice President Dick Cheney's residence.

But Mikulski hopes that because most of the department's employees - 170,000 people from 22 agencies - won't work at the headquarters, the spy agency or Army base would be a natural fit for the department's intelligence arm.

The decision to set up shop in the district surprised many in Washington yesterday after it seemed all but certain that department officials would lease one of several office complexes in Northern Virginia.

Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse would not discuss reasons for the change, but he said the Navy site offers crucial security and technology, such as secure phone and video links.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington's nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, praised the decision, saying it would keep badly needed money and jobs in the district. She said she thought officials had heeded her warning that the sites in Northern Virginia were overpriced and too far from downtown Washington for a Cabinet agency.

Department officials were considering spending $250 million on a 10-year lease for a vast amount of space in Virginia, without knowing how many workers would end up there.

The department hopes to begin operations by Monday, when it intends to send 100 employees to work in the Washington building. It is unclear how many workers will end up on the gated campus and how long the department intends to stay.

Roehrkasse said the building would be the department's "initial headquarters for the foreseeable future." He left open the possibility that the department could move permanently to the Maryland or Virginia suburbs, or elsewhere in the district.

Lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia were looking yesterday for ways to bring home a permanent headquarters.

An aide to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said: "Temporary means there's a possibility that the final location could be Maryland."

Norton said she believes that the longer the headquarters remains at the Navy-run facility, the better it bodes for the district. Though the district won't receive any tax benefit, because the location is federally owned, it still benefits from having workers "leave their disposable income here," she said.

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