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Shutdowns, Base Closings and Other True Stories of Suburban Federal Life

A new book chronicles life in Arlington, Va.

By day, Charlie Clark covers federal management issues here at Government Executive, writing about everything from President Obama’s management agenda to Defense acquisition reform.

But when he’s not cranking out news stories at a prodigious pace, Charlie moonlights for the Falls Church News-Press, writing about life in his beloved hometown of Arlington, Va., as the “Our Man in Arlington” columnist. Now, many of those columns have been compiled into a book, Arlington County Chronicles (History Press).

Not surprisingly, given the fact that Arlington sits perched right across the river from the nation’s capital, the book features several vignettes about how the federal government has touched the lives of Arlingtonians, especially those who work for Uncle Sam.

For example, Charlie writes about how last year’s 16-day government shutdown “cut a swath through Arlington life:”

Washington’s closest suburb is home to some 34,000 of the 800,000 federal employees who were furloughed by the new downtown radicals’ budget faceoff, many of them my neighbors.

Daily, I watched as dads walked their kids to school (how do you explain a furlough to a first-grader?) and puttered in their yards. One devoted the forced downtime to renovating a bathroom; another did volunteer work with youth.

Agencies headquartered in Ballston were hit hard by the “appropriations lapse.” The National Science Foundation idled 99 percent of its 2,100 workers, while the Fish and Wildlife Service furloughed 7,300 of its 9,300. One that was spared through the miracle of multiyear funding was the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

In a 2011 column, Charlie detailed the effects of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process on Arlington, noting that the suburb would suffer more job losses than any of the other nine localities targeted in that BRAC. A commuting nightmare loomed as thousands of those jobs were shifted to nearby installations deemed more secure:

The swirl of politics, economics and personalities that informed the BRAC process produced important, if painful, moves to rationalize the nation’s obligations in defense spending.

But the leaders seemed tone-deaf to their impact on traffic. How else would they move 6,400 jobs to the Stalinesque Mark Center on Alexandria’s Seminary Road and 1,200 jobs to the National Guard facility at Arlington Hall with nary a public transportation option in sight?

The book includes dozens of other tales of Arlington life over the years, including the story of how the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents made a brief pit stop there on their way to safekeeping away from Washington during the War of 1812, and a look at whether the Internet was invented in the town. Al Gore, as it turns out, lived in Arlington, but that’s not really the story. To find out what is, you’ll have to buy the book.

(Image via Flickr user nostri-imago)