Feds asked for input on transportation, workplace location issues

Tuesday - 8/16/2011, 10:10am EDT

David Zaidain, senior urban planner, National Capital Planning Commission

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The government is updating a plan that could affect where federal employees work — and how they get there.

The National Capital Planning Commission's Comprehensive Plan guides long-range development in the Washington, D.C. area, including operations of the federal government, whose workforce makes up a sizable chunk of the D.C. populace.

The commission has released a draft version of new updates to the plan, which includes changes that could affect federal workers, and NCPC is now asking for public comment.

David Zaidain, a senior urban planner with the commission, told Federal News Radio the two policy updates — dealing with transportation and the location of federal buildings — are closely related.

"Both of those elements are really powerful pieces to how the federal government manages its footprint in the national capital region," Zaidain said.

Transportation policy

The new transportation policy guidance deals with ways to get federal agencies to do a better job of encouraging employees to use mass transit.

"We're really encouraging, as you would guess, getting federal employees out of their cars," Zaidain explained. "Having all of the federal workforce, as an extreme example, commuting by single-occupancy vehicle can have major impacts to the transportation network in the region. And we're really encouraging federal facilities to get away from that."

So far, about 33 percent of the federal workforce uses mass transit to commute to work, he added, but NCPC said it would like to see more do so.

It has also called for agencies to promote "active commuting," such as biking or even walking to work.

However, agencies trying to promote more sustainable commuting habits may face stiff resistance from employees.

Last month, the General Services Administration announced it would begin requiring employees to pay for parking at federal buildings, citing a need to increase sustainability. However, after significant union outcry over what the cost of the parking fees, the agency announced it would hold off on implementing the fees.

Workplace policy

The workplace guidance deals where to locate federal facilities and how to make sure they are integrated into the wider, surrounding community, Zaidain said. The process of locating federal facilities also dovetails with transportation issues. "The real main priority for locating federal facilities is having them be close to transit," he said. "That's very important."

However, NCPC's guidance isn't always adhered to, which happened with the decision to move thousands of Defense Department employees to facilities at the Mark Center in Alexandria, Va., as part of the Base Realignment and Closure plan.

Zaidain pointed out the commission was not involved in the BRAC moves.

Timeframe

Zaidain acknowledged the commission's comprehensive plan is "definitely taking the long view," looking as far as 25 years into the future.

So, with such a far focus, where else are federal offices likely to sprout up in the meantime?

"As an urban planner, if I had my druthers, I think you're going to see a continued concentration of federal facilities in the core," he said, which is made up of the downtown area along the Mall. "And the reason for that is most federal agencies want to be here. They want that proximity to the White House and ... to the Capitol. But it's also the hub of our transportation infrastructure and the reason the Metro is designed on a spoke-and-wheel type of concept (where) all the lines lead downtown."