For some, like Tony Trenkle, taking a job at Woodlawn meant working for an agency whose mission he supported without having to endure the slog of a daily commute to Washington. The Howard County resident said he hears from many Baltimore-area co-workers who also appreciate having work close to home.
CMS, part of which was once under the purview of Social Security, consolidated in Woodlawn in 1977. The agency now has a separate campus about two miles away.
The agencies are the fuel for some Woodlawn businesses.
At New Kiani's Pizza and Subs, a small carryout and delivery operation tucked into a strip mall at Johnnycake Road and Ingleside Avenue, federal workers make up a majority of customers, said owner Mohammad Ashraf.
"All day long, seven days a week," Social Security employees stop in to pick up food, said Ashraf, who has run the restaurant for 18 years. Others call for delivery to the headquarters complex. But he said he doesn't worry about the possibility of a shrinking federal workforce in the area because that's out of his control.
About two blocks east at Pat's Pizzeria, about 80 percent of the customers in the dining room over lunch are from Social Security, said proprietor Akram Hamed. The restaurant has gained a large following of federal employees, who flood the phone lines in the morning to place delivery orders for later in the day, he said.
But the economic impact is far broader. Trenkle, the chief information officer at CMS, said the agency works aggressively to support the local economy, both through its network of Baltimore-based contractors and in hiring graduates from local universities and colleges.
Other federal Woodlawn employees pointed out that they contribute to the economy in the same way private-sector workers do, by shopping in stores throughout the Baltimore area and sending their sons and daughters to local universities.
"We're all consumers," said Lorraine Tunis Doo, acting deputy director and a senior policy adviser at CMS who lives in Towson. "That has a big impact."
That's part of the reason state and local officials are working to keep the agencies in the region, particularly as the campus begins to age. Many were alarmed last year when the General Services Administration announced it was moving a Social Security data center — along with several hundred jobs — from Baltimore County to Frederick County.
The GSA, which serves as the federal government's landlord, is conducting a yearlong study of the Social Security complex to assess the agency's future, officials said.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said he has talked to everyone from the president to officials at GSA and has received "strong assurances" about the government's commitment to maintaining its presence at Woodlawn. "We're feeling pretty confident that the policy direction of our nation as well as the work product of Woodlawn means a bright future," he said.
For his part, Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue echoed those assurances in a recent interview, saying the agency is "very committed" to remaining in the area.
"A lot of our people grew up here, worked their way through the system," Astrue said. "We're excited about being part of the revitalization of the area."
Nevertheless, Kamenetz said he isn't taking any chances. He has appointed a liaison who meets regularly with federal officials at the agencies. The county also created an "enterprise zone" last year that provides tax breaks to companies that expand in the area immediately surrounding the federal campuses.
Local officials are also promoting Baltimore's planned Red Line project, a 14.5-mile, east-west light rail route that will stop near the federal complex, as key to increasing development in the area and making the agencies more attractive to potential employees. The GSA has been promoting the idea that new federal office buildings should be located near mass transit.
There are some early signs of progress from those efforts. A Virginia-based technology company called CSC, which develops software for CMS, recently announced it is expanding its operations in Baltimore County to meet the agency's demands. The company has 423 employees in the county, many of whom were hired in the past year.
Alisoun Moore, vice president of CSC's health services division, said the company has been helping the agency prepare for the new health care law, most of which is set to take effect in 2014, and also has been working on the push to computerize medical records called for in the 2009 economic stimulus law.
"It just makes sense to expand" in Woodlawn, Moore said. "They're going to have a lot of work to accomplish."
Baltimore Sun reporter Steve Kilar contributed to this article.