Why DoD Must Modify Its Security Standards

The Department of Defense (DoD) published its “DoD Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings” as part of its “Unified Facilities Criteria” in October 2003.  Throughout the Defense community these are often referred to as the Anti-Terrorism / Force Protection (ATFP) standards.  The key feature of the ATFP standards is that they include 22 specific building and site design elements that must be implemented for compliance.  Among these are: 1) a minimum 82’ setback from the defended site perimeter (for office buildings); 2) structural design to avoid progressive collapse, and; 3) laminated blast-resistant glass.  Most buildings do not incorporate this type of design and retrofit may be costly or impossible.  In high-density markets, such as the DoD’s home in Arlington, Virginia, the setback standard alone prevents nearly all buildings from complying.  Rare exceptions, such as the DARPA build-to-suit in Arlington’s Ballston submarket, are costly due to the underutilization of expensive commercial land.

The ATFP standards have been phased-in over several years.  Beginning in October 2005, the standards required that new leases must comply with the security criteria.  Renewals, however, were exempt until October 2009, at which point any leased space must comply with the standards.  Currently DoD may only occupy ATFP-compliant buildings; but, until the lease event takes place DoD tenancy is not required to meet the standards.  Because the BRAC process was requiring DoD tenants to renew short term, and because negotiation delays were preventing those short term renewals from being completed prior to October 2009, a specific exception was granted to allow BRAC-affected tenants the ability to extend their leases for up to five years without needing to meet any special security requirement.  In July of last year, DoD distributed updated guidance which temporarily suspended the need to comply with ATFP standards for lease renewals and extensions for terms of five years or less.  This served to kick the can down the road but doesn’t solve the core issue.

As you can imagine, the DoD is facing a serious problem.  There are very few standing buildings that can possibly accommodate DoD’s security standards.  Further, it is clear that new projects cannot be executed quickly enough to cover a looming gap between their expected completion and the expiration of existing DoD leases – even with the 5-year extensions.  This leaves a significant portion of DoD tenancy – perhaps as much as a few million square feet – stranded.  DoD’s only long-term solution to this is to exercise a lesser-known clause in the ATFP standards which provides that, if DoD occupies less than 25% of a building, it is exempt from the security design criteria.  As a result, the Government is now forced to grant further exemptions or hunt for blocks of space where they can occupy less than 25% of the building.  Neither presents a satisfactory long-term solution.

Though budget pressures are clearly forcing DoD to consider security alternatives, sustainability standards are further driving change.  The Obama Administration’s Executive Order 13514, signed in 2009, builds upon earlier legislation and executive orders to establish more aggressive federal sustainable design goals.  These sustainability design goals are often in conflict with security design goals.  For example, DoD does not want to allow parking under its buildings.  That, combined with the setback requirements creates projects that utilize land resources poorly (because of the setbacks), cause increased stormwater runoff (because of large paved parking fields), and increase the carbon footprint through automobile commuting (because these projects can’t be sited in urban areas).  All of these factors run counter to sustainable design and, under the current Administration, sustainability trumps security issues.  Therefore, there is growing pressure to change the security standards and DoD has already begun evaluating whether it can conform with the Interagency Security Committee (ISC) guidelines that have been adopted by most other federal agencies.  If this occurs, the future of DoD tenancy in urban markets remains far more certain.