Geospatial agency may come to Meade

Officials make pitch to bring 3,000 Bethesda-based jobs here

July 13, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

The case has been made and remade. Now Maryland must sit back this summer and wait to discover whether the state will receive thousands of relocated military jobs, and whether Fort Meade will get its hands on most of them.

But if a delegation of Maryland's top leaders proved persuasive last week, the Army post that's home to the National Security Agency could undergo an even larger expansion of its intelligence operations than previously anticipated.

Before the commission that is overseeing the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure process in Towson, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski made the pitch to bring about 3,000 workers at National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Bethesda to the extra-secure confines of Fort Meade, a move that she said would bring together "the technical eyes and ears of U.S. intelligence."

The Democrat said that by bringing NSA and NGA together on one site, Fort Meade would become "the national home for signals and technical intelligence."

Maryland officials have been working behind the scenes to secure the state's intelligence work force since the Pentagon announced its base realignment plans two months ago. Those plans included moving the geospatial agency to Fort Belvoir, part of an anticipated shift of more than 18,000 jobs to the Northern Virginia installation.

Many see Fort Meade, which is likely to undergo a decades-long expansion of its intelligence operations, as the answer to preventing the Bethesda agency from leaving Maryland. Under the Pentagon's recommendations, Meade is set to gain more than 5,300 jobs - many of them related to surveillance efforts at NSA - within seven years.

Saying the mission of the geospatial agency "is closely tied to that of National Security Agency," Mikulski added that "NGA can establish itself faster, more securely and with less disruption to its mission at Fort Meade. ... Upgraded infrastructure would allow NGA to `plug in' quickly."

Officials at Fort Meade recently revealed details of a three-decade master plan to accommodate growth in and around the Army post in western Anne Arundel County, as local and state leaders estimate that tens of thousands of jobs will come to the Fort Meade area because of NSA. One proposal involves eliminating the 400-acre golf course in the center of the 5,400-acre installation to create space for federal agencies seeking the extra security that Meade could provide.

Col. John W. Ives, who stepped down last month as Meade's commander, has said that the golf course site could accommodate about 20,000 more workers. Independent of the base realignment process, NSA announced last year that it would hire 7,500 employees by 2009. Many of the nation's defense contractors that work with the agency have already clustered their operations at a business park that shadows Fort Meade.

With the Army post emerging as a national center for defense and information technology, state leaders anticipate that thousands of more high-tech contracting jobs will find their way there.

Maryland officials emphasized at the Towson forum Friday that Meade could handle the responsibility of two critical intelligence agencies, and the county's chief planner reaffirmed that Anne Arundel will have the transportation and high-end office space to accommodate such fast-paced growth, and the homes, schools and "quality-of-life" aspects that will lure workers to live nearby.

"We believe we are ready for the proposed growth and additional private-sector activity that will be driven by the BRAC process," said county Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr.

Rutter said the county has about 4,000 housing units ready to be built around the fort from Arundel Mills to Odenton, and that more housing is "in the development pipeline that will provide a supply over the next decade."

In addition, 5 million square feet of office space "is ready to move forward" along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, much of it to accommodate NSA contractors.

That doesn't include plans for the $40 million Odenton Town Center, a mixed-use development near a MARC train line.

State officials are working on a conceptual plan to extend the Green Line of the Washington-area Metro up through Fort Meade and on to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

State leaders expressed confidence that the commission would sign off on most of the Pentagon's recommendations for Maryland, and appeared to revel in the moment in a news conference just after their presentation. The commission, which can alter the Pentagon recommendations, will send the revised plan to President Bush and the Congress in the fall.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, said after the hearing that Maryland officials spent four years making the case for BRAC.

"Those years yielded those results," he said. "This was the cherry on top."

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