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Could Jimmy Carter ride to rescue of Arlington's vacancy rate?

Candidate presses county leaders to use 1970s executive order in attracting government agencies
Jimmy Carter is showing in a 2014 photo visiting a Northern Virginia bookstore, signing copies of his work "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence & Power."

An Arlington County Board aspirant says she will press one specific solution to help bring more federal-government offices to a county that over the years has lost many of them to other jurisdictions.

At a Sept. 5 campaign forum hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation, independent Audrey Clement said that, if elected, she would push his colleagues to press their federal-government counterparts on a 1970s-era executive order that, to some, seems to give the District of Columbia and Arlington priority in locating federal agencies in the Washington area.

Instead, the federal General Services Administration has opted to sign leases in outlying areas of the region to constrain costs.

The executive order, issued by President Carter more than four decades ago, has never been rescinded by his successors. Clement complained that while regional officials were sparring over whether the new headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation should be located in Springfield or in suburban Maryland, the real battle should be between Arlington and the District of Columbia.

But the last time the issue of the Carter executive order went round and round in Arlington, county leaders said it had little practical value.

“Many of these executive orders are in conflict with one another,” said Jay Fisette, then County Board chairman, as the issue percolated back in 2017.

He was responding to civic activist Bernie Berne, who long has pressed county officials to try and get the executive order enforced.

At that same 2017 meeting, then-County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac praised Berne for “coming up with something creative,” but said the language of the executive order was not binding on the federal government, and that Arlington would have no legal standing to challenge it.

Clement takes issue with that point of view. And while trying to get the order enforced might be a Hail Mary by Arlington officials, current conditions – with an office-vacancy rate of more than 20 percent and a very uncertain future looming – is conceivably might be worth a shot, even if it might irk other government leaders across the Washington region.

None of the other three candidates for the two open County Board seats associated themselves with Clement’s remarks, instead offering their own suggestions for bringing down the office-vacancy rate.