Archive for the ‘Federal Agencies’ Category

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Outdoor Farmers Market at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

A farmers market is a physical retail market featuring foods sold directly by farmers and others to consumers. Farmers’ markets are most frequently outdoors and typically consist of booths, tables or stands, where farmers sell fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and sometimes prepared foods and beverages.

For such a heavily urbanized area with no actual working farms within the city limits, D.C. boasts a large number of diverse farmers markets. Both large and small markets, they offer a selection of fresh produce and numerous other products. Most are outdoors and open seasonally, like one of my favorites, the Vermont Avenue Farmers Market.  Other larger ones, like Eastern Market, are indoors and open year round.  And some are less traditional and might not even be initially thought of by most as a farmers market, like The Maine Avenue Fish Market.  On this lunchtime bike ride to end the week, I went by the outdoor farmers market at the headquarters for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is located in a parking lot outside the U.S.D.A. Headquarters on the corner of Independence Avenue and 12th Street (MAP), across the street from the Smithsonian Metro stop in southwest D.C.

Celebrating its 20th summer, the U.S.D.A. Farmers Market opened for the 2015 season on May 1st, and will operate from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. every Friday until the day before Halloween. Managed by the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the U.S.D.A.’s Farmers Market is considered by the Department as a “living laboratory” for farmers market operations across the country. As a model for others, the market supports the local economy, increases marketing opportunities for farmers and small businesses, provides access to an assortment of local and regionally sourced products, and increases access to healthy, affordable food in D.C.

So regardless of whether you get there by bike, or some other way, I recommend checking out either the U.S.D.A. Farmer’s Market, or any other farmer’s market near you.  If you try some of the many free samples while you’re there, you’ll most likely buy more to take home with you like I did.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

FBI Headquarters

FBI Headquarters

Tomorrow marks the 43rd anniversary of the death of J. Edgar Hoover.  After nearly five decades as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), his death left the powerful government agency without the administrator who had been largely responsible for its existence and shape. It was on May 2, 1972, as the Watergate affair was about to explode onto the national stage, that Hoover died of heart disease at the age of 77.  After laying in repose in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building, he was buried in a full state funeral on my 10th birthday.  And even though I was very young at the time, I remember this happening.

It was in recognition of this event that, as part of this bike ride, I rode from FBI Headquarters, which was named after him, back to Director Hoover’s final resting place in Historic Congressional Cemetery, just a mere three miles away. Hoover was born on New Year’s Day in 1895 in D.C., where he lived his entire life. In light of the recent controversy over President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, it is interesting to note that a birth certificate was not filed at the time Hoover was born, despite the fact that it was required.  His two siblings had birth certificates, but Hoover’s was not filed until 1938, when he was 43 years old.

Hoover then grew up near Eastern Market in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood (where I stopped at one of my favorite places for lunch on my way back to my office today). Educated as a lawyer and a librarian at George Washington University in D.C., Hoover joined the Department of Justice in 1917 and within two years had become special assistant to the Attorney General.  Appointed in  1924 as the Director of The Bureau of Investigation – the predecessor to the FBI – he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935.  He then ran the FBI for an additional 37 years.

Because Hoover’s actions came to be seen by many in Congress as an abuse of power, FBI directors are now limited to one ten-year term, subject to extension by the U.S. Senate. Late in life, and especially after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive actions became known.  His critics have accused him of exceeding the jurisdiction of the FBI.  Additionally, rumors have circulated that Hoover was homosexual, which had a distinctly different connotation during his lifetime.  Despite the criticisms and rumors, however, Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Headquarters building is located at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), occupying a full city block of prestigious real estate approximately halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. Unfortunately it has not been accessible to the public since 2001 when the Bureau immediately suspended public tours in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Among its many amenities the brutalist 2,800,876 square-foot structure contains, or has in the past contained: an auditorium and theater; three below-ground floors, which include a gymnasium and a two-story basketball court; an automobile repair shop, an eighth-floor cafeteria with outdoor rooftop patio dining; an indoor firing range;  a pneumatic tube system and a conveyor belt system for handling mail and files; a film library as well as developing laboratories for both still photography and motion pictures; a cryptographic vault; an amphitheater; jail holding cells; classrooms; 80,000 square feet of laboratory space; a printing plant; a medical clinic; a morgue, and; a gravel-filled dry moat which parallels the sides and back of the building.

Unfortunately, the public may never again get the chance to tour the building inasmuch as plans are being made to abandon it and move to a new headquarters building outside of the city.  Structural and safety issues with the building starting becoming apparent in approximately 2001 when it is rumored that a large chunk of cement broke off and fell within the interior of the building. It is said to have landed on and damaged an employee’s desk during the night, and was found the next morning when the employee arrived at work.  Chunks of falling concrete remain a danger, which is why many parts of the building are wrapped with netting, and scaffolding covers some sidewalk walkways. Later that year an engineering consultant found that the building was deteriorating due to deferred maintenance, and that many of the building’s systems such as heating and air conditioning, its elevators, etc. were nearing the end of their life-cycle. The consultant rated the building as in “poor condition” and said it was not at an “industry-acceptable level.” Four years later, another consultant reported that due to the building’s inefficient interior layout, it could no longer accommodate the FBI’s workforce, which by that time was scattered in 16 additional leased properties throughout the D.C. metropolitan area. This problem was compounded by the need for recommended security upgrades, building systems replacements, and other necessary renovations. At that time, the General Services Administration estimated that it would take three years to develop a replacement headquarters and identify a site, and another three years for design, construction, and to move-in. The FBI began studying the costs and logistics of moving its headquarters later that year. It has been a decade since the estimated six-year process was initiated, and current estimates are that it will take another ten years before the FBI will be able to move into a new headquarters building.

But then again, despite all the studies and money already spent, the move may not happen after all. In January of this year the U.S. Congress passed the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015.” In a brief and mostly overlooked portion in Section 517 of the Act, wording was slipped in which specifically states, “Any consolidation of the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation must result in a full consolidation.” In order to comply with this requirement of the new law, the FBI will have to consolidate all of the employees and functions that are currently located in the headquarters building as well as the other 16 leased properties into any new building. The problem is, plans for the new building are that it will be approximately 2.1 million square feet. So a new building is being pursued because the current building is inadequate for the size of the FBI workforce. But the proposed new building will be 700,000 square feet smaller than the current building.   I guess we will just have to wait and see whether or not the FBI will be able to move its headquarters.

On the bright side, though, if the Bureau is not relocated to a new headquarters building it will give them the chance to finally finish construction of the one they’re in.  The construction of FBI Headquarters was nearing completion at the time Director Hoover passed away. And in what some say was intended as a slight toward the former Director after his death, funding was never appropriated to finish construction on the exterior of the building that was to bear his name. As a result, the façade of the J. Edgar Hoover Building is riddled with hundreds of holes where sheets of polished granite or marble cladding were to have been attached, and the crude concrete exterior of the building has remained in an unfinished state ever since.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

United States Institute of Peace

United States Institute of Peace

Congress has the power to create, organize, and disband all components of the Federal government. But there is no complete official government list, and even experts can’t seem to agree on the total number of Federal government departments, agencies, commissions, offices, bureaus and institutes. Most estimates suggest there are probably more than two thousand, each with their own organizational structure and areas of responsibility and authority. However, their duties often overlap, making administration and keeping tracking of what your tax dollars are supporting even more difficult.

On this bike ride, as I was riding in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, I happened upon a modern, glass-fronted building which upon further exploration turned out to be the headquarters for one of the Federal entities that I had never heard of before – The United States Institute of Peace.  Located at 2301 Constitution Avenue (MAP), just a block west of The Albert Einstein Memorial, and near the northwest corner of the National Mall near The Lincoln Memorial, their headquarters is a LEED-certified building which was designed to house the Institute’s offices and staff support facilities, library, conference center, auditorium, classrooms, and a public education center, all while serving as symbol of this country’s commitment to peacebuilding.

The United States Institute of Peace is a non-partisan, independent, Federal institution that provides analysis of and is involved in conflicts around the world.  It is relatively new, having been established by an act of Congress that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The Institute’s staff of approximately 275 is split among its D.C. headquarters, as well as field offices, and temporary missions to conflict zones.  It is governed by a board whose members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

In this city that often seems to thrive on it, the Institute and its headquarters building are not without controversy.  The Institutes board members have historically had very close ties to the American intelligence community, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency may assign officers and employees to the Institute.  And critics assert that the Institute’s peace research looks more like the study of new and potential means of aggression through trade embargos, austerity programs, and electoral intervention.

Further, the Institute is funded annually by the U.S. Congress, and during its first 30 years its official funding has increased almost tenfold. However, it also receives funds transferred from other government agencies, such as the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense, making its actual operating costs unknown.

The controversy and criticism of the Institute also affected the construction of its headquarters building. Officials broke ground for the new headquarters in June of 2008 at a ceremony that included President George W. Bush. However, by 2011 Congress voted to eliminate all funding for the U.S. Institute of Peace, including for the construction of its headquarters. Funding for the building was eventually restored the following year by both the House and Senate.

Additionally, the Institute is prohibited by law from receiving private funding and contributions for its program activities. However, the restriction on private fundraising was lifted for to construct the massive headquarters building which I visitied on this ride.

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The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Francis Kennedy, who was born on this day in 1925. Commonly known as “Bobby” or by his initials RFK, he was the seventh of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Bobby was more than eight years younger than his brother, President John F. Kennedy, and more than six years older than his other brother, Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy.

In addition to being a Senator from New York and a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1968 election before being the second member of the Kennedy family to be assassinated, Bobby also served as the 64th U.S. Attorney General from 1961 to 1964, having been appointed to the position by and serving under his older brother, President John F. Kennedy.

In recognition of today’s anniversary of his birth, on this bike ride I went by the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, which was renamed in his honor on what would have been his 76th birthday, in a ceremony conducted by President George W. Bush in 2001. Serving as the headquarters of the Justice Department, the building is located at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), on a trapezoidal lot which is bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue to the north, Constitution Avenue to the south, 9th Street to the east, and 10th Street to the west, in the Federal Triangle area of downtown D.C.

Completed in 1935, the building was design by Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary utilizing influences from neoclassical and Art Deco architectural styles. The original facades, lobbies, corridors, library, Great Hall, executive suites and private offices retain their original materials and design, including the extensive use of ornamental aluminum. Today the building retains exceptional historic integrity, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.

The building’s design is similar to other Federal Triangle buildings, with an Indiana limestone facade over a steel frame, red-tile hip roof, and colonnades, as well as interior courtyards to provide natural light and ventilation. However, it distinguishes itself from other Federal Triangle buildings by its Art Deco elements and the innovative use of aluminum for details that were traditionally cast in bronze. For example, all entrances to the building feature 20-foot high aluminum doors that slide into recessed pockets. Interior stair railings, grillwork, and door trim are aluminum, as are Art Deco torchieres, doors for the building’s 25 elevators, and more than 10,000 light fixtures.

The building houses the Department of Justice, a cabinet-level executive department led by the Attorney General and responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice in the United States. Several Federal law enforcement agencies are currently administered by the Department of Justice, including the United States Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Office of the Inspector General. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also a component of the Department of Justice, and was originally housed in the same building, until 1974 when it moved into its own headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover Building directly across the street on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Day is an official Federal holiday intended to honor all men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, who are also known as veterans. It occurred earlier this week, and is observed every year on November 11th. Veterans Day coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day, which is observed in other parts of the world and marks the anniversary of the end of World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The United States also originally observed Armistice Day, but in 1954 it was changed to the current Veterans Day holiday.

Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

In recognition of Veterans Day, on this bike ride I went by the offices for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is located at 810 Vermont Avenue (MAP), just north of the White House and Lafayette Square in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.

The Department of Veterans Affairs employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices throughout the country, and is responsible for supporting Veterans in their time after service by administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.

The Department has three main subdivisions, known as Administrations. They are: the Veterans Health Administration, which is responsible for providing health care in all its forms; the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is responsible for initial veteran registration and eligibility determination, and oversees benefits and entitlements, and; the National Cemetery Administration, which is responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, as well as for maintenance of 147 veterans and nationally important cemeteries, the most well-known of which is Arlington National Cemetery.

Among its other responsibilities, a current initiative in the Department of Veterans Affairs entitled “The National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans” is underway end and prevent homelessness among veterans. The number of Veterans experiencing homelessness exceeds 100,000 former service men and women on any given night. Though 96 percent of homeless Veterans are male, the number of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans experiencing homelessness is increasing as is the number of homeless Veterans who have dependent children. In general, veterans have high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma, which can lead to higher risk for homelessness. About half of homeless veterans have serious mental illness and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Veterans are more likely to live outdoors, and experience long-term, chronic homelessness.

While this initiative is admirable, it still has a long way to go, as evidenced by the number of homeless veterans actually living on the sidewalk outside the Department of Veterans Affairs offices here in D.C.

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The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing

On this day in 1956, two years after successfully pushing to have the phrase “under God” inserted into the pledge of allegiance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law declaring “In God We Trust” to be the nation’s official motto. The law also mandated that the phrase be printed on all U.S. paper currency. The phrase had already been placed on U.S. coinage starting in 1867, when the “Union” side during the Civil War started the practice.

In recognition of the anniversary of our official adaptation of this motto, on this ride I went by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  Paper currency is printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is a component of the Treasury Department.  The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is located at 300 14th Street (MAP) in southwest D.C.  Coins, however, are produced separately by the United States Mint.  So I also rode by the headquarters for the U.S. Mint, which is located at 801 9th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.  Although the headquarters for the Mint is in D.C., production facilities are no longer located here. The production facilities are located in Philadelphia and Denver. Production of proof coin sets and commemorative coins also take place in San Francisco and West Point, New York.

Although some historical accounts claim Eisenhower was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, most presidential scholars now believe his family was Mennonite. Either way, Eisenhower abandoned his family’s religion before entering the Army, and took the unusual step of being baptized relatively late in his adult life as a Presbyterian. The baptism took place in 1953, barely a year into his first term as President. He is the only president to be baptized while in office.

Although Eisenhower embraced religion, biographers insist he never intended to force his beliefs on anyone. In fact, the chapel-like structure near where he and his wife Mamie are buried on the grounds of his presidential library is called the “Place of Meditation” and is intentionally inter-denominational. At a Flag Day speech in 1954, he elaborated on his feelings about the place of religion in public life when he discussed why he had wanted to include “under God” in the pledge of allegiance: “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

The first paper money with the phrase “In God We Trust” was not printed until 1957. Since then, religious and secular groups have argued over the appropriateness and constitutionality of an official national motto that mentions “God.” “In God We Trust” also became the official motto of the state of Florida in July of 2006, where the same arguments take place on the state level. The debates will continue, and may someday result in a change to the motto and our national currency.  However, more important than what constitutes our national motto or a state motto is what constitutes your personal motto.

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The Federal Election Commission Headquarters

The Federal Election Commission Headquarters

Election Day in the United States is the day set by law for general elections, and occurs on the day after the first Monday in November. (Note that the “day after the first Monday” does not equal the “first Tuesday” in a month when the first day of the month is a Tuesday.) The earliest possible date is November 2nd and the latest possible date is November 8th.   On this bike ride, in recognition of today being Election Day, I stopped by the headquarters for the Federal Election Commission. It is located at 999 E Street (MAP), across from FBI Headquarters and next door to the Hard Rock Café in northwest D.C.

Historically, when an election day for a Presidential election falls on today’s date, November 4th, it was generally very good for Republicans throughout the 20th century. The streak began when Election Day fell on November 4th back in 1924, and Calvin Coolidge was elected to the country’s top office. Coolidge was already in the office of President, having to complete the term of Warren G. Harding, who died while in office. This time, and on this day, he was voted into office by the people of the U.S., and served another four years. History repeated itself in 1952 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was running against Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Once again, Election Day was on November 4, and “Ike” won. It was the first Republican presidential victory in 24 years. Eisenhower became the 34th U.S. President. When Election Day fell on November 4th again in1980, it was a good year for Republicans all around. Most of those Republicans running for seats in the U.S. Senate were victors, winning a majority of the seats. And in a landslide, Ronald Reagan won the race for President against the Democrat incumbent, Jimmy Carter.

Before 1924, it was a different story: Democrat Grover Cleveland made it to the top in 1884; and Democrat James Buchanan was elected President of the U.S. on November 4, 1856. Unfortunately, the Republican victory streak did not continue into this century either. It ended five years ago today, on November 4, 2008, in the first presidential election held on November 4 in the 21st century. In that election, Democrat Barack Obama was elected President. The next November 4 Presidential election will be in 2036.

However, there is not a presidential election this year. The general elections being held today are considered “mid-term elections.” These elections include all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate; along with the governorships of 36 of the 50 states and three U.S. territories, 46 state legislatures (except Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia), four territorial legislatures, and numerous state and local races.

Voter turnout in national elections varies in countries throughout the world. In Belgium, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, which does not, participation reaches 95 percent. Voter turnout in this country averages only 48 percent. And voter turnout in this country decreases for midterm elections. Only 39.9 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot during the last mid-term elections, and estimates indicate voter turnout could be even lower this time around. So if the predictions are correct, more than 6 out of 10 eligible voters will not participate in today’s elections. That makes each vote even more important. So make sure you vote early. And as is the tradition if you’re in Chicago, vote often.

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury Building

The U.S. Department of the Treasury Building

The Treasury Building in D.C. is a National Historic Landmark which was built over a period of 33 years between 1836 and 1869. Composed of five stories on five acres of landscaped gardens, the Neoclassical-style building is located at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), next door to the White House in northwest D.C. This building, which serves as the headquarters of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

The Department of the Treasury, a U.S. Cabinet department, was established by an Act of Congress in 1789 to manage government revenue. The Treasury Department prints and mints all U.S. paper currency and coins through the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the United States Mint. The Department of the Treasury also collects all federal taxes through the Internal Revenue Service, and manages U.S. government debt instruments.

The initial portions of the Treasury Building, the east side and central wing, were designed by architect Robert Mills, and built between 1836 and 1842. The South Wing of the building was designed by Ammi B. Young and Alexander H. Bowman, and continued the basic Mills scheme. Construction of the South Wing occurred between 1855 and 1861. Isaiah Rogers designed the West Wing, which was built between 1862 and 1864. And the North Wing, designed by Alfred B. Mullett, was built between 1867 and 1869, completing the building.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

The Treasury Building is the third oldest federally occupied building in D.C., after the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. It would have been the oldest, but the original building and subsequent restorations were destroyed by fire on several occasions, including an accidental fire in 1801, an attack by British troops during the War of 1812, and arson on the night of March 30, 1833. The fire of 1833 was set by Richard H. White, a former clerk, in an attempt to destroy fraudulent pension papers. Although destruction of documents was kept to a minimum, the fire completely destroyed the building. The fire might have been contained if it had been discovered earlier. But at that time, the building had only one night watchman, who was allowed to sleep after making a round of the building at ten o’clock. After four separate trials, however, White was not convicted because the statute of limitations had expired.

The origins of the current Treasury Building has an interesting history. In the early days of the national capital city, the White House and the Capitol Building faced each other at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. However, President Andrew Jackson’s relationship with the Congress were so contentious that it was rumored that he had the Treasury Building placed in its present location so it would block his view of the Capitol. After a prolonged fight with Congress over the location of the new Treasury Building, President Jackson is said to have walked to the site on 15th Street near where the former building had been, drove his cane into the ground, and commanded, “Put the damned thing right here.”

If you’re unable to visit the actual  Treasury Building in D.C., you can see an image of the building any time you want inasmuch as it is featured on the back of the ten-dollar bill.  A portrait of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, is on the front of the bill. 

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The Washington Navy Yard

The Washington Navy Yard

The United States Navy recognizes October 13, 1775, as the date of its official establishment, when the Continental Congress passed a resolution creating the Continental Navy.  So to celebrate the upcoming 239th birthday of the Navy, on this bike ride I decided to ride to the Washington Navy Yard, which is located in and takes up approximately half of the Near Southeast neighborhood on the Anacostia River (MAP) in Southeast D.C.

The Washington Navy Yard, or The Yard is it is often referred to, was established in October of 1799.  The Yard was built under the direction of Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy, under the supervision of the Yard’s first commandant, Commodore Thomas Tingey, and is the oldest shore establishment of the U.S. Navy.  It was formerly the shipyard and ordnance plant of the U.S. Navy.  From its first years, the Washington Navy Yard became the navy’s largest shipbuilding and shipfitting facility, with 22 vessels constructed there.

The Yard currently serves as a ceremonial and administrative center for the U.S. Navy, home to the Chief of Naval Operations, and is headquarters for the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Historical Center, the Department of Naval History, the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Naval Reactors, Marine Corps Institute, the United States Navy Band, and other more classified facilities. The Yard also includes the Navy Museum which houses the Navy Art Collection and its displays of naval art and artifacts that trace the Navy’s history from the Revolutionary War to the present day.  A museum ship, the destroyer USS Barry, is also at The Yard and is open to tourists. The Barry is frequently used for change of command ceremonies for naval commands in the area.

The Yard is just one of 42 Navy bases in the United States, with a number of other bases overseas, either in U.S.-controlled territories or in foreign countries under a Status of Forces Agreement.  A large number of bases and installations are needed to support the Navy’s size, complexity, and international presence of the Navy’s personnel and operations.

The U.S. Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined.  It operates 289 deployable battle force ships and more than 3700 operational aircraft.  The U.S. Navy also has the world’s largest carrier fleet, with 11 in service, one under construction, two planned, and one in reserve.

The service currently has 325,143 active duty personnel and 107,524 in the Navy Reserve. It operates 286 ships in active service and more than 3,700 aircraft.  It also has approximately 201,000 Navy Department civilian employees.

So in recognition of the Navy’s upcoming anniversary, I’d like to say happy birthday to the Navy, and to all those who have and are serving.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters

On this daily bike ride I went to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters building. Although more frequently associated with the Kennedy Space Center in Florida or Edwards Air Force Base in California, their headquarters is actually located in downtown D.C., at 300 E Street (MAP) in Southwest D.C.

The destination for this bike ride was chosen in recognition of today’s anniversary of the agency becoming operational, which occurred on this day in 1958 after President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed and Congress passed legislation disestablishing its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and establishing NASA as the Federal agency responsible for coordinating America’s civilian activities in space. NASA has since sponsored space expeditions, both human and mechanical, that have yielded vital information about the solar system and universe. It has also launched numerous earth-orbiting satellites that have been instrumental in everything from weather forecasting to navigation to global communications.

NASA was created in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of its first satellite, which caught Americans by surprise and sparked fears that the Soviets might also be capable of sending missiles with nuclear weapons from Europe to America. The U.S. prided itself on being at the forefront of technology, and, embarrassed, immediately began developing a response, signaling the start of the U.S.-Soviet space race.

Just a few years later, in May 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared that America should put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission achieved that goal and made history when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, saying “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Interestingly, Armstrong flubbed the scripted line, which was supposed to have included the article “a” before the word “man.” Fortunately, however, the tremendous scientific and cultural importance of Apollo 11’s achievements dwarfed Armstrong’s verbal slip-up. And despite his failure to deliver his line as planned, it remains one of the world’s most famous sentences.

NASA has continued to make great advances in space exploration since that first moonwalk. They include Skylab, the U.S.’s first and only independently built space station. There was also the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project of the early 1970’s, which was a joint effort between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and declared the intent for all future international manned spacecraft to be capable of docking with each other. This set the stage and eventually led to NASA playing a major part in the construction of the International Space Station. Another one of the agency’s successes was the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The agency has also suffered tragic setbacks, however. The Space Shuttle Program became the major focus of NASA in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Planned as frequently launchable and mostly reusable vehicles, four space shuttles were built. However, disasters killed the crews of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986, and the Columbia space shuttle in 2003.

When NASA was founded, Congress said that the money being provided that goes up in the form of space exploration has to come back down in some practical and tangible forms. And it has done that and more. The miniaturization of electronics making cell phones and iPods possible was primarily developed during the race to get to the moon. The first integrated circuit — the forefather of the modern microchip making modern computers possible — was built by Texas Instruments but funded by the Apollo program. Cordless power tools are possible because of collaboration between NASA and Black and Decker in search of a stronger, longer-lasting battery. Even the “Jaws of Life” device that saves people from twisted metal wreckage in auto accidents was developed as part of the space program. In fact, everything from the padding in football helmets to scratch-proof lenses in eyeglasses, as well as composite golf clubs, ultraviolet sunglasses, the computer mouse, and baby formula were all developed in collaboration with NASA. For NASA to take credit for it all is not entirely accurate, but to say that it’s all part of a larger space economy is quite accurate.

Our space exploration program goes far beyond seeking a return on a financial investment though. Mankind has always been lured by a fascination with space, and the creation of NASA and our exploration of space are rooted in that fascination. But why is space so fascinating? I agree with Eric Hoffer, an American moral and social philosopher, who once said, “Our passionate preoccupation with the sky, the stars, and a God somewhere in outer space is a homing impulse. We are drawn back to where we came from.”

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