DISA says more employees willing to make move to new HQ

Officials convinced most hard-to-replace employees will transfer from Arlington, Va., to Fort Meade, Md., due to flexible work hours and telecommuting.

Roughly three times a week for the past six months, Dave Bullock, an employee of the Defense Information Systems Agency, drives from the agency's headquarters in Arlington, Va., to what will be DISA's new home in Fort Meade, Md., more than 30 miles away just to see how long the commute takes.

This might seem masochistic. The trip requires either pushing one's way through downtown Washington traffic or fighting the almost-always packed lanes on the Beltway and heading northeast toward Baltimore. But the test drives are part of Bullock's job to manage the relocation of the agency and its 4,272 civilian and military employees, and contractors to Fort Meade from three Virginia locations. The move, slated to be completed in September 2011, was dictated by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005.

Bullock, whose official title is DISA BRAC executive, said he quickly learned during his drives that the 30-mile commute from the Arlington headquarters to Fort Meade, which included traveling typically heavily congested I-395, I-295 and I-95, seemed to him less stressful than the 2.5 mile trip from the agency's offices at Courthouse Road in Arlington to its headquarters on Columbia Pike.

He said he can make the northbound trip during rush hour from Arlington to Fort Meade in about 45 minutes. But the southbound trip back into Arlington at the end of the workday takes an extra half hour -- and he can't figure out why.

The road tests show the commute to Fort Meade from Virginia is not that onerous, a key point the agency needs to convey to retain its skilled, and mainly Virginia-based, workforce as it makes its move, Bullock said.

DISA first surveyed employees in 2005, when only slightly more than 75 percent workers lived in Virginia, to determine whether or not they would accept a transfer to Fort Meade. The answer for many was, "Hell no, we won't go." Only 29 percent of the employees said they would move, 19 percent were undecided and 52 percent said they would not move.

Since then, DISA has turned attitudes upside down, with almost 60 percent ready to transfer, about 13 percent still in the no column and the remainder undecided.

DISA managed to do this with inducements to retain the hard-to-replace skills and experience of its workforce, Bullock said. The agency has led the government in providing telework and all employees with the permission of a supervisor can telecommute up to three days a week. They also can choose to work nine-hour days, which when combined with telecommuting, means DISA employees have to hit the road only three days out of 10, Bullock said.

Telecommuting at the moment is an option only for DISA employees who can do their jobs over an unclassified network. But Bullock said the agency is looking to set up a facility for classified work in the Woodbridge, Va., area.

Employees who choose to move to Maryland are entitled to a change of station allowance that is calculated based on the sale price of their homes, purchases of new homes, moving, storage and miscellaneous expenses. Bullock estimates that workers will be given an average of about $65,000. He expects only 10 percent of employees to move to Maryland.

To encourage the use of commuter rail, Bullock said DISA has worked with the National Security Agency, the main tenant at Fort Meade, to provide a shuttle bus from the train station in Odenton, Md., to the new headquarters. The agency also is considering shuttle bus service from the Metro rail station in Greenbelt, Md., to Fort Meade, a distance of about 15 miles.

The new headquarters has its own inducements for the agency's technical workforce, including networks capable of delivering voice, video and data to an employee's workstation at the blistering rate of 1 gigabit a second. Bullock said DISA built enough network capacity into the building to take care of advances in technology for years.

Despite the inducements, traffic remains a key issue for those still in the undecided column. Although Bullock has fared well on his 30-mile test drives so far, he did say on some days "that can be a very long 30 miles."