It also voted to transfer thousands of military and civilian employees from leased offices in the national capital area to military bases in the region.
The commission voted unanimously to close Walter Reed, agreeing with the Pentagon that the facility should be combined with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The Defense Department plans to combine personnel and services of the two hospitals into a new facility called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a “joint” medical center that would provide care to members of all military branches.
The original Walter Reed hospital was named for a U.S. Army medical officer and researcher from Virginia whose work on bacteria and viruses helped revolutionize military medicine.
The move will shut down most operations at the 96-year-old hospital, famous for treating top U.S. military and government officials, including presidents. In total, some 9,500 jobs are set to be transferred.
Base Realignment and Closure Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said the aging Walter Reed facility and its operations needed to be “modernized” in order to provide state of the art treatment.
“Kids coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of them in harm’s way, deserve to come back to 21st century medical care,” Principi said.
Local D.C. officials fought to save the facility, but also expressed interest in opening part of the large campus for residential or commercial development. Some 9,400 jobs, according to Defense Department estimates, will be affected by the move.
“I really regret that they did close Walter Reed. But now we need to get control,” D.C. City Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp told the Washington Post. “This is a major property in the heart of the District of Columbia.”
The commission also agreed with the Pentagon recommendation to relocate thousands of jobs from multiple leased offices in the Northern Virginia area in an effort to foster closer working relationships among military agencies and to provide better security for civilian and military employees.
Officials in Arlington County and Alexandria, Va. strongly opposed the move and argued to the commission that the Defense Department leadership was unfairly biased against leased facilities. Local officials said the moves would cost their communities thousands of jobs and leave large swaths of commercial real estate space unfilled.
Some 20,000 people could be moved from facilities in Arlington and Alexandria, an area close to the Pentagon, to bases around the region, including Fort Belvoir and the Marine Corps base in Quantico, both located further south in Virginia, as well as Fort Meade in Maryland.
Some local advocates said the moves could cause building and traffic nightmares for their communities.
“It will take six hours for peak afternoon traffic to get through the Fairfax County [Virginia] Parkway at I-95 in 2010,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a local advocacy group, told the Washington Post. “It will take an estimated five hours to clear peak afternoon traffic from the Fort Belvoir area as a whole, even with already planned road expansion.”
The commission plans to complete its work Friday but could open a Saturday session if it is needed. On Friday, the panel is scheduled to take up controversial Pentagon proposals for consolidation of Air National Guard sites, a plan that is being strongly opposed by some state governors. The commission is also scheduled to vote on whether to close Ellsworth Air Force base in South Dakota, a major facility that local and state officials have fought hard to save.