Arlington, VA

A major Arlington employer is thinking about packing up and moving to a new building.

The National Science Foundation currently employs about 2,100 people at its Ballston headquarters, according to a spokeswoman, but the government agency has indicated that it is potentially interested in moving to a new building when its lease expires in 2013. NSF would like the new space to be about 25 percent larger than its current location at 4201 Wilson Boulevard, and about 12.5 percent cheaper per square foot than the current comparable office rent in Ballston, according to the Washington Business Journal.

The federal government’s office rent cap in Northern Virginia is $38 per square foot, compared to the average Ballston Class A office rent of $43.47, according to WSJ. That has led to speculation that NSF might leave Ballston altogether.

“We’re going to pursue them and we’re going to pursue them aggressively,” Alexandria Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said of the agency’s impending lease expiration, to the Alexandria Times. Donley was instrumental in persuading the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to move its headquarters from Crystal City to Alexandria in the early-to-mid 2000s.

The area’s congressional delegation, however, has asked the General Services Administration — which helps manage government properties — to strongly consider keeping NSF in Arlington.

“We urge you to take into account recent developments that we believe continue to make Arlington the ideal location for NSF Headquarters,” said a letter to the GSA’s top official, signed by Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Jim Moran.

The letter, dated February 23, 2010, argues that NSF benefits from its proximity to Ballston institutions like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research and Virginia Tech’s new Advanced Research Institute.

“Arlington County is a national epicenter for scientific research, particularly in the areas of defense and homeland security,” the letter stated. “Not only does [Ballston] provide these agencies with access to one of the most highly educated and highly trained workforces in the nation, it also provides them with immediate access to a large pool of technical experts in the contracting community as well.”

“We believe a relocation of NSF Headquarters away from Arlington would [have a] detrimental effect on the ability of each of these research organizations to achieve their agency objectives,” the letter concluded.

National Science Foundation officials say that the agency has not made any decision regarding its lease at this time.

“The lease will be fully and openly competed and an offeror selected that represents best value to the government and taxpayers,” said NSF spokeswoman Maria Zacharias.

Arlington Economic Development officials say they’re working with NSF to keep the agency in Ballston or, at the very least, in Arlington.

“AED is working closely on this issue as we believe their current location (or alternatively another location in Arlington) would be the best scenario,” said spokeswoman Karen Vasquez. “Science is the foundation of Ballston and the NSF plays an integral role in that mix.”

New pressure on the agency may help push it to cheaper environs, however. A scathing report on NSF’s spending, released earlier this year by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), criticized the tens of millions of dollars NSF spends each year renting its Ballston offices . The report also blasted the agency’s request for $45 million to help cover the cost of customizing a new headquarters.

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