Silver Spring considered for FDA site


WASHINGTON -- The federal government plans to ask the Navy for a site in Silver Spring to build a new headquarters for the Food and Drug Administration, bringing about 5,000 jobs to the area.

The site -- now occupied by a Naval facility scheduled to be closed -- is the second considered for the FDA in Montgomery County. Plans to bring the agency to a larger site in Clarksburg were killed in Congress, but start-up money for a smaller project in Montgomery County was approved Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, at the behest of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

It will be at least spring before the General Services

Administration, which operates federal property, will know whether the Navy can hand over the property in White Oak. The project must undergo a complex approval process involving the Pentagon and community groups.

The White Oak site is home of a naval surface warfare center that is among six installations in Maryland recommended for shutdown by the federal base-closing commission. President Clinton has approved the list and sent it to Congress for final authorization.

The prospect of having an FDA headquarters at the White Oak site has delighted community leaders.

"It's sort of like 'Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood,' " said Betsy Bretz, who was among community activists who attended a meeting last week with officials of the GSA and FDA. "We want you to be our neighbor."

Meanwhile, critics have questioned whether the FDA needs a new headquarters at a time when many members of Congress doubt the agency is needed at all.

"There are a lot of proposals out there to drastically reduce the FDA anyway," said Dub Maines, a spokesman for Rep. John J. Duncan, a Tennessee Republican. "That's just another reason why building a monster new facility where they don't know what's going to happen in a year adds another degree of lunacy."

Proponents of the White Oak site say it would consolidate much of the agency's operations scattered around the Washington area and thus make it more efficient.

"We won't be building anything" until Congress decides, said Jag Bhargava, a GSA development director.

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