Landing the new FBI headquarters certainly would be a feather in the cap of whichever jurisdiction in this region wins the General Services Administration sweepstakes. Just how big a feather it would be, however, is debatable.
The GSA is seeking a 2.1 million-square-foot complex for a new headquarters for the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency, which is now in the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, D.C. The $126.1 million building, which opened in 1974, is obsolete, officials say; a new headquarters would be more efficient by consolidating staff and enabling the GSA to eliminate multiple leases.
The agency is looking at a few alternatives. Besides entertaining the idea of moving the complex across the National Mall to Federal Triangle South in the District, the GSA is seeking information from developers for sites in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, plus Northern Virginia.
Prince George’s and Northern Virginia have actively pursued the project since word of it surfaced last year, and no wonder — at stake are more than 11,000 jobs, plus the prestige that comes from hosting the venerable FBI.
“This is a once-in-a-generation federal relocation opportunity. My administration has aggressively pursued this and intends to continue its aggressive pursuit of this opportunity,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a statement.
Steven A. Silverman, director of Montgomery County’s economic development department, called the project a “huge boost for any local economy.”
“Of course we're interested,” he said, adding that the county’s focus is finding available land.
This could shape up to be another pitched battle in the modern-day version of the cross-Potomac war between the states. Maryland and Virginia officials have long competed for both private- and public-sector economic development projects, with the Free State coming up short a few times in recent years. Most notably, Northrop Grumman and Hilton Worldwide decided to move their headquarters from Southern California to Northern Virginia, despite ardent wooing from Maryland and Montgomery County officials. Also, Bechtel announced last year it was shifting 625 workers from Frederick to Northern Virginia, in part to be closer to federal clients.
It's not as if landing the new FBI headquarters would be an unmitigated win for its host jurisdiction. For one thing, the headquarters are likely to have a fortress-like feeling, with a minimum of community interaction. Also, traffic is always a concern in this region; witness Rockville Pike’s rush-hour congestion near the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, with its approximately 11,000 post-BRAC employees.
Still, the new FBI headquarters would be a plum for its host jurisdiction. Many of those new employees — probably well-paid — will be going out for lunch, dinner and coffee nearby. FBI workers stationed elsewhere would probably be staying in nearby hotels when in town on official business. The multiplier effect would generate even more business profits and tax revenues.
And moving the headquarters to Prince George’s might actually help alleviate the region’s traffic woes: The county is home to 25 percent of the region’s federal work force but less than 4 percent of the region’s leased federal government space, according to Baker.
Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, including longtime Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, recently re-elected Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer — who represents Prince George’s — immediately came out last week in support of siting the new headquarters in Prince George’s. If they have any influence in the nation’s capital, now’s a good time to wield it.
There would be certain irony if the FBI relocates to Prince George’s, a couple of years after busting the county’s former chief executive in a wide-ranging corruption probe. But along with other county developments such as the $4 billion National Harbor, an $800 million MGM casino and the newly started Tanger Outlets retail complex, hosting the new FBI headquarters could be another step in helping the county restore a chunk of its reputation.