Captives of the Cold War Economy: The Struggle for Defense Conversion in American Communities

By John J. Accordino | Go to book overview

4
The New Face of Defense:
Systems Engineers and
Bureaucrats
in Northern Virginia

THE RISE OF THE HIGH-TECH DEFENSE ECONOMY

Unlike Hampton Roads, whose defense economy has undermined its economic performance, Northern Virginia has used defense and other government markets to launch a vibrant high-tech economy. Thus, post--Cold War federal procurement policies affected this community differently than they did Hampton Roads. Nevertheless, Northern Virginia growth interests and elected officials shaped the community's responses to defense-spending cutbacks, much as they did in Hampton Roads. This chapter describes those responses. To understand Northern Virginia, however, one must first understand something of the economy of the entire Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and one must appreciate the forces that have, in the space of about 50 years, transformed this essentially placid community into one of the most dynamic areas in the world.

Since its origins at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Washington, D.C. economy has had little else than the federal government's administrative offices as an export base. Commercial manufacturing never gained a foothold here, and even military-related production did not flourish.1 Although the Washington Navy Yard was established in 1806, it never played a significant role in shipbuilding and repair because the navy believed it was too far from the sea.2 For most of its history the federal bureaucracy was relatively small, so the District remained small as well. Its hinterland, with the exception of a couple of small towns such as Alexandria across the Potomac River, consisted of farms, rolling hills, and swamps.

That began to change in the 1930s with the establishment of President Roosevelt's New Deal programs and through other developments that expanded the federal bureaucracy. The trend continued in the 1940s as the War Department

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