`Telework' center is agency's first step to Fort Meade move

May 16, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

The Defense Information Systems Agency, one of the largest federal commands moving to Maryland as part of a national military realignment, announced yesterday it has opened a telecommuting center at Fort Meade - the first step toward moving its 4,300 workers to the Army post.

The agency is the first to establish a foothold in Maryland among those transferring here as part of the base realignment and closure process known as BRAC, which is expected to bring tens of thousands of defense jobs to Maryland over the next five years.

"BRAC has been this intangible thing to a lot of us," Fort Meade's commander, Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, said after a ceremony attended by leaders across the Baltimore-Washington region, including Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. "It didn't have any form yet. With DISA planting a flag, it makes BRAC real."

The "telework" center at the Army post, which opened in January, allows DISA personnel to work there rather than commute to the agency's three sites in Northern Virginia. Defense officials said they are hopeful the center - the third for DISA employees on the East Coast - will help in its efforts to build a Maryland-centric work force as the agency moves to Fort Meade by 2011.

The military will break ground on DISA's $500 million campus-style headquarters at the Army post by the summer of 2008, and the million-square-foot complex is expected to be done in early 2011. The deadline for agencies moving as part of BRAC is September 2011.

In all, nearly 6,000 defense personnel are relocating to Fort Meade because of BRAC.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said the presence of DISA, whose employees earn nearly $100,000 on average, "will provide a real shot in the arm of the economy."

About 4,000 DISA employees work in Northern Virginia. The big question is: How many Northern Virginians, who constitute roughly 75 percent of the DISA work force, will move with their jobs to Fort Meade?

State and federal officials are bracing for the possibility that hundreds of high-tech workers might quit rather than relocate. Historically, between 25 percent and 40 percent of defense workers have relocated as part of BRAC.

"Not everyone will come. We are preparing for that," said DISA's director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles E. Croom Jr.

DISA officials said they see telecommuting as a viable way to alleviate the strain on commuters and lure younger workers.

The telecommuting center at Fort Meade has stations for 10 workers but plans for more. DISA officials said there's space to accommodate up to 50 within a few months. The agency has similar off-site work centers in Annapolis and Norfolk, Va., as well as other government facilities. Staff can typically work two days a week from the remote sites.

Croom noted that about 1,200 workers telecommute at least part time - most of them working from home - and that technological advances allow them to work on secret material.

DISA serves as the communications link between defense agencies and military personnel in combat zones and elsewhere. Its focus on defense-information technology is expected to complement operations at the National Security Agency, also headquartered at Fort Meade.

Jack Penkoske, a senior executive at DISA, said the agency is looking to open a telecommuting center this year in St. Louis. He and other DISA officials said that workers are more productive at home or at "telework" centers.

"By the end of the year, we want to be the leader of government telework," Penkoske said.

As part of its hiring efforts, DISA is bringing in about 300 interns a year to bolster its ranks as the federal government also prepares for an exodus of retirees.

Penkoske said those efforts are attracting more Maryland workers. In the past year, he said, as Virginia's share of DISA's work force dropped 3 percent, Maryland's share rose by 3 percent.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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