National Security Sprawl in … Spotsylvania?

Founded as the seat of the federal government, the form of Washington, D.C. has always reflected security concerns. Since the sacking of the capital during the War of 1812, the government has taken increasingly extensive measures to ensure its self-protection, including 68 defensive forts during the Civil War, a beltway beyond the blast radius of an atomic bomb during the Cold War, and bollards and checkpoints today. Defense has often meant distance, and today geographer Deborah Natsios has observed the vast metropolitan region is embedded with “artifacts of the national security infrastructure” including communications equipment, defense contractors offices, and military facilities.

SpotsylvaniaNow distant Spotsylvania County hopes to benefit from what Natsios terms ‘national security sprawl,’ boasting in a recent advertisement in the Washington Business Journal their county is the first jurisdiction along I-95 south of Washington, D.C.’s 50-mile Homeland Security Zone, near several military installations, and boasting offices meeting anti-terrorism requirements. Is the federal government pushing agencies and contractors to locate beyond 50 miles from Washington, or does the distance simply come as an added bonus to an exurban location? For now the issue is unclear. Information about the security zone on the web is scant, but the Washington Post reported a year ago about federal agencies quietly snapping up offices in Winchester, Virginia, which local boosters quickly noted was 75 miles from Washington, well outside the nuclear “strike zone.” The newspaper even helpfully printed a diagram illustrating just where such a boundary falls. Regardless of the precise nature of the cause, it seems security concerns are pushing government facilities into a new frontier far beyond the existing metropolitan area. Needless to say, the trend runs counter to local government efforts to cultivate smart growth in existing urban areas in order to economize on infrastructure and protect environmental quality.

There is some evidence Spotsylvania’s hopes to capitalize on security sprawl is coming true: the Census estimates the county has added some 30,000 residents since 2000, bringing their population to some 120,000. Capital Region urban observers may want to begin to study the names of a new ring of suburban counties.

> Previously: D.C.’s National Security Sprawl
> Washington Post: “New Rural Sales Pitch: Work Outside D.C.’s Fallout Zone

Spotsylvania, Virginia Ad

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. Pingback: The Bellows » FMZ

  2. Spotslyvania makes more sense than Loudon or Manassas. It’s got VRE train access and is located in between Richmond and DC (it’s probably closer to Richmond actually).

    I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Chicago (although Chicagoland goes for miles and miles in many directions), I lived 40 miles from downtown. We were a 19th century suburb to Chicago, a train line ran right through town and connected my town to Chicago via commuter rail as well as to other industrial cities out in the far Western part of the suburban area. Midsize 19th century river cities that we don’t really have anything comparable to around here. Chicago is admittedly a complex matrix of a gigantic big city and several smaller cities that developed with their own set of industries and suburbs over the last 150+ years, with farmland that dotted throughout (it’s still odd, to me, to see farmland in the middle of closer in suburbs — imagine if their were still farms in Arlington or Alexandria — at certain spots it can be like that around Chicago.) those farmlands have filled in mostly after WWII with new towns that were less connected to the railroad network and more to the highways. Although, many — like the mega suburb of Naperville — happen to be on both.

    Recently, there seems to be a push to develop parts of the region even further west than where I grew up. It’s sad to me to lose that farmland, but there is at least some effort to make sure that the train lines have been extended out to those regions first and that the county plan includes compact PUDs centered around those train stations.

    I don’t know (and fear not) that Spotsylvania will do the same, but it could happen.

    Still there needs to be a greater effort to assure statewide urban limit lines and protection of Virginia’s rural character, which is all well and good to say, but there must also be an effort to keep the counties from competing against each other to share the wealth of northern virginia taxes to boost the economic and educational outlooks for the rest of the commonwealth. It does no good to suggest that certain counties have to stay behind while others get ahead and reap the financial rewards.

  3. And then there is Senator Byrd:,9171,974717,00.html

    “Apart from the usual highways and parks, Byrd has taken a special interest in transplanting pieces of federal agencies from metropolitan Washington to his home state. Among the departments of government that have offered up various limbs and organs for sacrifice are the FBI division of fingerprinting, the CIA and the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt, Internal Revenue Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Even the Coast Guard has moved its national computer operation to Byrd’s landlocked state.”

  4. It’s an interesting trend, moving parts of the federal government out of it’s “seat” and one that’s caused me to wonder: if enough of it is moved, would there still be a “District” for Congress to have jurisdiction of? –the rationale for our not having voting representation in Congress.
    It is quite an indictment of the fundamental health of our economy that anyone, anywhere would see their best chance for economic survival as one of having a piece of the Gov or contracts with it. Do we no longer hove any other resources? or have we somehow lost the ingenuity that created the world’s most renowned wealth producing machine from the “scratch” of “raw” land?

  5. Many existing offices can be custom-tailored to meet DoD Minimum Anti-Terrorism Standards and SCIF’ed requirements

    Great Corbusier’s ghost! I can imagine it now: A county of fortress towers-in-the-park, located far away from anything—even VRE. When it comes to mandating untenable sprawl, DoD is the new FHA.

  6. Well in someways that makes sense, West Virginia has an infrastructure of cities that are not as vibrant as perhaps they once were. It makes more sense to move pieces of the government to extant cities in other parts of the country than to develop farmland in rural Virginia. Having the seat of Federal government in DC really hasn’t made a whole lot of sense since the 19th century. I remember as a kid in Chicago, we always thought it was weird to have the federal city way out on the East Coast. It just didn’t make logical sense. Some of the debate about the new longer work week in Congress is that it benefits the East Coast senators and representatives more than others. It’s a lot of travel to get from California to DC and back again several times a month. I always thought the extremely large Federal buildings in San Francisco and Oakland is related to this phenomenon of 10% of the U.S. population being 3,000 miles away from the center of government.

  7. The necessity of one nexus for all government operations has long since passed. Many Federal government functions don’t really need to be in DC at all. For instance, tax returns can (and are) processed all over the United States and there is no good reason to stop this dispersal for this sort of work. Government functions that rely mainly on processing rules (what we typically call bureaucracy) can be written into a set of steps and outsourced to cheaper labor in fly-over country.

    However, policy decisions and policy research often require a physically proximate network of professionals to facilitate the flow of ideas. Often these ideas flow between agencies, between academia and government, and between think-tanks and government. A quick glance at the CVs of many think-tanks fellows will show that many have also moved frequently among government and academia.

    Though the Internet promised to detach ideas from locations, this has only become true with lower-level tasks (call center work, business process automation, etc.). Place still matters when it comes to formulating new ideas and refining existing ideas. If you’re looking for a highly intellectualized public policy infrastructure, DC’s got it and no other town can compete. As for West Virginia, let them process my fingerprints.

  8. Although I agree that the internet has not been able to replace face to face interaction, I don’t agree that DC has wrapped up innovation and leadership in public policy. Quite the opposite actually. It is pretty well believed that the states are the incubators for new ideas. Sure they may get studied and processed around here, but so too at the state level. Increasingly, the gridlock that is partisan bickering has pushed even more policy to the state level. Most ideas in this country — from business to politics seem to move from California and New York to rest of the country. This is in part do to their positions as states and their enormous size and economies of scale. Everything from healthcare policy to education policy to the rise of grassroots leftism to the modern GOP began in California. In part, no doubt, out of competition with the East, but also because the free exchange of ideas and the participatory government is at its height in that state. DC is a log jam where status and power continue to rule over ideas — of building your CV over creating substantive solutions. No one gives a flying f— what your CV is outside of DC. It’s that inside the beltway mindset — that idea that we are Very Important People — that has the rest of country putting Washington on permanent ignore. West Virginia can do a lot more than process my taxes. I’d like to see their ideas as well.

  9. Inaudible Nonsense,
    Though I do agree with you that many policy innovations begin in California, I think it is important to differentiate between Washington’s political apparatus and Washington’s public policy apparatus. The former is run by elected and appointed officials who must decide priorities, cut deals, and respond to the audience back home. The latter group figures out the best way to execute those priorities without nearly as much pandering.

    It is too easy to blame “the folks in Washington” for the nation’s political ills, while forgetting that the people in Washington with supreme power are, by law, from everywhere else in the country. It is not the voters of the District of Columbia who elected a careless commander-in-chief, an obstructionist Speaker, or a Congressman who thinks nuking Mecca is sound foreign policy. The fact that the District has no voting representation further washes Washingtonians’ collective hands clean.

    It is important to separate the politics (widely believed to be especially dysfunctional at the Federal level at this point) from the public policy. It is shrewd politics to couch even the most egregious pork projects in plausible, yet absurd, cover. Despite what Iowans think, ethanol is not eco-friendly fuel. Despite what Alaskans think, capital expenditures for transportation infrastructure should be prioritized based on cost-effectiveness. Despite what Mississippians thinks, America’s Navy does not need ships it doesn’t want. Despite what Louisianans think, a gouging, tariff-protected sugar industry is not necessary for America’s food security.

    Bad public policy continues because unverified platitudes play over well with the electorate. Building a continuous border fence may sound good in the Peoria Post, but all those non-elected Beltway insiders it’s popular to scapegoat know very well it will never work (especially since many undocumented workers simply overstay visas).

    I would argue that Federal political dysfunction is largely the fault of those people the rest of the nation sends here, not the fault of the qualified people who can spot waste when they see it—not only spot it, but produce a well-documented policy paper on why it’s waste. This is the best work of Washington—if only the rest of the country could turn off American Idol and listen.

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