Update: Jim Moran has since told me there was no quid pro quo, that the Indiana real estate developer's contributions were part of an arrangement by which the developer contributed to many people at once, apparently with an unrelated issue in mind. I appreciated the Moran response and will let readers judge for themselves.
While politicians talk about jacking up the retirement age and cutting back on money for Americans’ education and medical care, our military keeps squandering billions.
Among the prime examples to mull over at tax time? The more than $1B spent on the BRAC-133 complex across from me on I-395 in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. Watch the Quarter Pentagon YouTube and spread the word. BRAC-133 is the D.C.’s area Bridge to Nowhere, except that it is a done deed, not just a proposal, and costs several times as much as the Gravina Island Bridge would have. What a great way to institutionalize Defense Department waste!
This Bush-era boondoggle, containing 32 million pounds of steel and enough computer cable to stretch from Virginia to Chicago, is a gift to terrorists. More than 6,000 defense employees will move in later this year, a quarter of a Pentagon’s worth, and work in a stellar location for a drive-by missile shooting even though the military instead could have put up BRAC-133 inside a secured base, assuming the taxpayers needed the complex in the first place. In the words of Congressman Gerry Connolly, as quoted by the Washington Examiner, the BRAC-133 site has “security issues” in addition to transportation ones.
Our is an era of sophisticated and redundant telecommunications; must we really give Al-Qaida and Libya such a handy target consolidating various military bureaucracies in one place, when it’s bad enough that the Pentagon itself is so exposed to the outside world? And couldn’t at least some of the offices in the Quarter Pentagon go to more appreciative cities with higher unemployment rates? In fact, at a time when thousands of Americans are dying for want of proper medical care, did the complex have to be built at all—-if its main purpose was to combine existing offices?
If you’re a liberal, BRAC-133 should serve as a handy reminder of the spendthrift ways that have ballooned our deficit and caused some politicians to call for cutbacks in domestic spending—potentially delaying your retirement and maybe even killing you ahead of time if Medicare vanishes (yes, there are many other reasons such as the Bush tax cuts for billionaires and other needy high-income souls). If you’re a conservative, you may think: “If we had to spend the money, couldn’t more of it have gone for weapons or training or military pay, and less for a Quarter Pentagon?” If you’re a libertarian, you may ask, “Should we have spent even a nickel?”
And if you yourself are destined to work in BRAC-133, I’ll sympathize: you almost surely didn’t plan the project and may suffer a commuter’s nightmare. The complex is miles from a subway stop.
On top of everything else, for whatever the reason, Dennis Oklak, the CEO of Indiana-based Duke Reality, a major beneficiary of the deal, gave at least $2,300 in political contributions to a Democratic congressman named Jim Moran, who in public is vigorously opposing the complex, calling it a monstrosity. I don’t know what happened—whether there was a spoken or unspoken quid pro quo or if Moran’s congressional-race opponent was slinging mud at him (I myself gave Moran the benefit of the doubt and voted for him last November). Whatever took place or didn’t, the donations are yet another indication of the need for campaign-finance legislation aimed at key executives of federal suppliers of all kinds, including the real estate variety. Part of the fat in the federal budget just might be a byproduct of our politicians’ hunger for contractor-related donations.
This is the nastier side of life imitating fiction. Another ugly, mislocated building in Northern Virginia—likewise miles from the subway and likewise the offering of a generous businessman feeding off federal bloat—stars as a symbol of D.C. corruption in The Solomon Scandals novel. I dreamed up the fictitious “Vulture’s Point” complex years before BRAC-133 blighted my neighborhood skyline.
I’m disappointed that both local politicians and local media failed to focus enough on BRAC-133 when it could have been stopped. Remember, everyone will breath filthier air as a result of the slowed and knotted traffic.
Credit where due: As I've written before, "Citizens such as Don Buch and Diane Costello—and Web sites for the Lincolnia Hills & Heywood Glen and Seminary Hills associations—were protesting against the Quarter Pentagon long before I started. The more voices, the better." Meanwhile, as the LH/HG blog has observed, all kinds of questions remain about funding for the promised traffic improvement (an optimistic spin here). And then there’s the ticklish question of whether BRAC-133 someday will mean the bulldozing of a local nature preserve.
About the video: The production quality is far from the level of 60 Minutes’s (I’m a writer, not a smooth-talking TV regular), but to mangle some old wisdom from the late Adam Osborne, certain things are useful and important enough to be worth doing badly. After originally shelving this project so I could later refine it, I decided it should go up now for people to ponder during the ongoing budget debate. Should have gone online earlier. What a memorable example of our so-often-dysfunctional bureaucracies! I’m not anti-government, by the way—just in favor of much better and cleaner government.
The local tax angle: The federally owned complex apparently won’t be taxed as real estate, but local officials are hoping to benefit from related commercial activity. Bottom line: A major loss for local taxpayers in the end, even with defense employees pumping money into Alexandria’s economy. Remember, they need public services, and I doubt that Washington will fully compensate. Thanks, Defense Department!
Update, April 17: This is a replacement video, a major improvement over the earlier YouTube. And I may swap another for the present one. Suggestions welcome! Meanwhile, if you want an easier-to-remember Web address than the WordPress one for this post, I’ve set up a redirect from solomonscandals.com/waste.htm. Pass it on! As noted, BRAC-133 is a handy reminder that we shouldn’t take military waste off the table in the current budget debate.
Related: Quarter of a Pentagon rises in my backyard: Media failure? And aren’t contractors’ campaign gifts worthy of mention? and Quarter Pentagon debate: Engaged civic blogging in action, with detailed questions for pols. Also see coverage of the military’s base relocation program in the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, AlexandriaNews.Org, the Alexandria Times, the Alexandria Gazette Packet, the Connection Newspapers and Patch. Update, 10:48 a.m., April 16: Pay special attention to the Examiner’s timeline in regard to Moran. Also, while Moran in public is a hawk on BRAC-133, his past statements have been more conciliatory at times.
What I wrote a staffer in Rep. Moran’s office:
I'm looking forward to Jim Moran's thoughts on BRAC-133 and related topics, in response to my questions sent yesterday (see next paragraph for additions). Let me know an ETA, please; no, I'm not expecting a response overnight. Thanks!
"Related" would include the need as I see it for stricter laws covering donations from federal contractors, as well as his perspective on the Duke Realty donation (perhaps made to try to get him to soften his BRAC position?). It's ridiculous that the contractor-specific restrictions exempt corporate people, the Duke CEO included, who draw from personal accounts. I'm also curious, of course, about the Clark donations. Were they made at fund-raisers? Did the Clark people come forward on their own, or did Rep. Moran or his people solicit them? And did Duke CEO Denny Oklak on his own contribute to Rep. Moran, without prompting, or was Mr. Oklak solicited? And if so, by whom and how? Be good simply to get this on the record.
I'm fully aware that Rep. Moran has received a fortune in donations from people associated with federal contractors like Duke and Clark. We're talking about a major financial hit. But you know what? By going out all the way for reform and letting the media know of his gutsy efforts, he'd pick up enough extra votes to make up for that. Remember the real goal here: not to raise the max cash but to get re-elected. I'm confident there are thousands of constituents like me–people who like most of Rep. Moran's stands on the great issues, but who would welcome some major, heartfelt efforts on the reform front. Talk about ways to draw media support, boost voter turnout in future elections and make Rep. Moran a hero in the history books!