Panel votes to move Walter Reed to Bethesda

Army hospital, 1,900 jobs would leave D.C. for Md.

August 26, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

A federal commission voted yesterday to move Washington's historic Walter Reed Army Medical Center and nearly 1,900 jobs to Bethesda, part of a sweeping military realignment that would expand a national center for medical treatment and research in Maryland.

The decision by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission paves the way for building another hospital on the campus of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The two facilities would merge into an expanded, 340-bed hospital to be called Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in honor of the nearly century-old Army hospital.

Also yesterday, the panel, known as the BRAC, approved the Pentagon's final job recommendations for Fort Meade, which would send about 750 more workers - mostly in the area of approving security clearances - to the Army post in Anne Arundel County. That would bring the number of new jobs going to Fort Meade to nearly 5,700.

Maryland officials expect that when the commission finishes revising the Pentagon's recommendations - which could happen today - the state will be in line for a net gain of more than 6,600 defense jobs, many of them high-paying scientific jobs.

Those job gains for Maryland are in line with the military realignment package the Pentagon proposed in May.

The independent commission, composed of nine former political and military leaders, has spent four months reviewing recommendations to close or consolidate 62 major bases and to close more than 800 other facilities across the country.

The Defense Department has estimated that the realignment would save nearly $50 billion over the next 20 years. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office put the savings at about half that.

Some of the 750 jobs that would be transferred to Fort Meade would come from Northern Virginia as part of a realignment package that would move 23,000 defense workers out of leased office space.

The Defense Department sought to move many of those workers to outlying military bases in the Washington area, including Fort Meade, for security reasons.

Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground have had a net gain of about 7,700 jobs in the past two days. APG would grow by more than 2,000 jobs based on the commission's vote Wednesday to transfer thousands of weapons researchers from Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents the two bases, called the past two days "the biggest ... of my political career."

Despite the loss of nearly 3,000 jobs with the proposed transfer of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency from Bethesda to Fort Belvoir, Va., Maryland would become a center for defense and information technology with the gains at Fort Meade.

Walter Reed, considered the pre-eminent military hospital in the country, has treated hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers - including those who have lost limbs in the Iraq war - and has served U.S. presidents and world leaders. It has 185 beds.

The hospital's aging infrastructure led the Pentagon to recommend moving it. The commissioners, who are formally revising the Pentagon's recommendations in hearings this week in Arlington, Va., concurred.

"Kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them in harm's way, deserve to come back to 21st-century medical care," said Anthony J. Principi, the commission's chairman.

The new Walter Reed center would be about four miles northwest of its current site, on the same campus as the National Institutes of Health, one of the world's top medical research organizations.

The Pentagon estimates at $1 billion the cost of the new Walter Reed and another proposed hospital at Fort Belvoir, where a portion of the Walter Reed staff would be transferred.

Washington officials are looking to the future of the Walter Reed site, 113 wooded acres in the upper northwest section of the District of Columbia. The land, between Georgia Avenue and 16th Street, is likely to provide numerous public and private development opportunities.

Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he hopes the federal government will move quickly to turn over the property to the district.

"We are extremely disappointed to lose this historic military installation. This loss will significantly affect residents, employees and neighboring jurisdictions," Williams said in a statement.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said the relocation will create little upheaval.

"Walter Reed is just a short distance away, so no one will need to move," he said.

The BRAC is expected to vote today on a recommendation to shake up the Air National Guard, including a plan to move eight C-130J cargo planes and more than 100 jobs from Martin State Airport in Middle River to California and Rhode Island.

The BRAC must send its final report to President Bush by Sept. 8. He then must approve the entire list or send it back for revision by Sept. 23. Congress then would have 45 days to accept or reject the entire list but also cannot change it.

Historically, the president and Congress have not altered such recommendations. If approved, the changes would be made over the next six years.

Sun staff writers Melissa Harris and Gwyneth K. Shaw, and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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