"We think this makes a lot of sense, and we believe basing the organization out of D.C. gives us a much better opportunity to pursue our mission," said Monty Osteen, the group's chairman.
The center, established by federal legislation in 1985, is a unique partnership between National Science Center Inc., a nonprofit organization, and the Army. Its broad mission is to increase the math and science proficiency of U.S. students.
"It's a national mission and it's always been a national mission," Osteen said.
As part of that mission, the partnership operates Fort Discovery, along Riverwalk Augusta. That site, with 125,000 square feet of exhibits and other space, has been for sale for more than a year and remains open Thursdays through Saturdays.
Although earlier discussions included moving the center to Fort Gordon after the downtown property sold, officials now plan to close Fort Discovery by year's end and complete the relocation to Washington by Sept. 30.
"The best way to achieve our mission is to devote our resources to the development of educational programming, act as the national clearinghouse for educational programming and best practices, and deliver educational products and services nationally using technology and other delivery channels provided through our partnerships," said Rob Dennis, the center's president and CEO.
Washington offers better access to the Pentagon and the military and also to many of the center's major sponsors, he said, adding that lack of funding from the state of Georgia has played a role in the decision to move.
"More viable partnerships in the national capital region along with diminishing Georgia state funding are the primary catalysts for the relocation," Dennis said.
Osteen, who has been the chairman of the center for more than a decade, said plans include finding a new chairman within six months, along with a new board.
"The new chairman we will recruit or elect shortly will be somebody who, hopefully, has a high national profile in a leadership position, perhaps even a CEO of a major technology firm," Osteen said. "That person would then begin the recruitment of nationally situated board members. The idea is to turn the board into very much of a national enterprise."
After the move to Washington is complete, the center will not establish a new museum facility such as Fort Discovery.
"Operating a large museum takes away a lot of resources that could be devoted to achieving the mission through delivery of educational programming," Osteen said. "Technology has gotten us to the point where we can deliver programming in a virtual way over the Internet, and be much more effective. Instead of reaching hundreds of thousands, we can reach millions."
Leaving Augusta after so many years will be difficult, Dennis said, adding that employees have been notified of the developments.
"Part of this is bittersweet," he said. "Even though we lose Fort Discovery, we need to do the right thing. What we have is a national organization with a national mission. This move will provide us with the level of national visibility that we need."