The FBI’s new home

Our view: If can­di­dates’ talk of ‘in­equal­ity’ and ‘equal op­por­tu­nity’ means any­thing, the next FBI head­quar­ters ought to be in Prince Ge­orge’s County

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Vir­ginia’s Fair­fax County is ranked by the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau as the na­tion’s sec­ond-wealth­i­est county, bested only by neigh­bor­ing Loudoun. More than one-fifth of its wage earn­ers bring home $200,000 or more each year, the me­dian home price is around $500,000, and the un­em­ploy­ment rate is a mi­nus­cule 3.2 per­cent as of Au­gust.

On the op­po­site side of the Cap­i­tal Belt­way, Prince Ge­orge’s County’s num­bers are not quite so glow­ing. Typ­i­cal house­hold in­come is around $73,000, more than 10 per­cent of res­i­dents live be­low the poverty line and the me­dian home value is about half of that in Fair­fax. It also is home to a far greater num­ber of mi­nori­ties — about 65 per­cent of Prince Ge­orge’s res­i­dents are AfricanAmer­i­can com­pared to less than 10 per­cent in Fair­fax.

This tale of two coun­ties, one “have” and one “have-less,” ought to be front and cen­ter in any con­ver­sa­tion of where to lo­cate the next head­quar­ters of the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, par­tic­u­larly given the re­cent an­nounce­ment by the Gen­eral Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion that the choice of new lo­ca­tions won’t be made un­til March. That puts the $2.5 bil­lion de­ci­sion squarely in the hands of the next ad­min­is­tra­tion, which will be headed ei­ther by a Demo­crat who has stressed the need to bridge the na­tion’s in­come-in­equal­ity di­vide or by a Repub­li­can who has promised to do more for black vot­ers than the Democrats have.

That’s not to sug­gest that the choice of where to re­lo­cate the FBI ought to be re­garded as an act of char­ity or even a po­lit­i­cal fa­vor. Purely on the mer­its, Mary­land al­ready has the up­per hand in the FBI head­quar­ters de­ci­sion. The two Mary­land sites un­der con­sid­er­a­tion — in Green­belt and Lan­dover — would be less ex­pen­sive to de­velop and more con­ve­nient to pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Green­belt, where there are MARC, Am­trak and Metro con­nec­tions, is par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive for any tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment. The com­pet­ing lo­ca­tion in Vir­ginia, a gov­ern­men­towned build­ing in Spring­field, would re­quire re­lo­cat­ing ex­ist­ing fed­eral tenants at a cost of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars and fur­ther de­lay the project.

Prince Ge­orge’s County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern Baker, Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski and oth­ers who have been la­bor­ing for years to at­tract the FBI head­quar­ters are no doubt dis­ap­pointed by the GSA’s de­lay. There are two chief wor­ries — that the nec­es­sary fund­ing won’t be ap­proved by the House (it has al­ready passed the Se­nate) and that the pro­jected out­come of the elec­tion, Hil­lary Clin­ton in the White House, will prove ad­van­ta­geous for Vir­ginia be­cause Vir­ginia’s Sen. Tim Kaine will be vice pres­i­dent and the Clin­tons are close to Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who chaired Ms. Clin­ton’s 2008 cam­paign. Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan has, by all ac­counts, been front and cen­ter in the ef­forts to get the FBI head­quar­ters, but as a Repub­li­can, he’s not ex­actly in the Clin­ton in­ner cir­cle. (Nor, for A de­ci­sion on where to build a new FBI head­quar­ters has been de­layed and will be made by the next pres­i­dent. that mat­ter, would he likely hold much sway with a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, given his laud­able re­fusal to en­dorse his party’s fla­grantly un­qual­i­fied nom­i­nee.)

Get­ting the fund­ing through Congress shouldn’t prove in­sur­mount­able given the sig­nif­i­cant na­tional se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions. The cur­rent FBI head­quar­ters in down­town D.C. is not only con­sid­ered vul­ner­a­ble to a car bomb or sim­i­lar ter­ror­ist at­tack, it can’t even house many­ofits em­ploy­ees whoarenows­cat­tered among30orso leased satel­lite lo­ca­tions. Mean­while, the ap­pear­ance of fa­vor­ing po­lit­i­cally con­nected and af­flu­ent in­sid­ers — the knock against seem­ingly ev­ery can­di­date run­ning for of­fice this year — is what a Pres­i­dent Hil­lary Clin­ton ought to avoid, par­tic­u­larly in her first few months in of­fice.

In­deed, if in­equal­ity and­peo­ple­be­ing left be­hind eco­nom­i­cally is the cen­ter­piece is­sue of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cam­paign, mov­ing the FBI to Prince Ge­orge’s County, home to 75,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees but only 25,000 fed­eral jobs, makes a wel­come state­ment that a ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity and less af­flu­ent county won’t be fur­ther dis­ad­van­taged by the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. The county may not be the pre­ferred home to FBI agents or se­nior lead­er­ship, but it is where their less well-paid ad­min­is­tra­tive staffers tend to live, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey. That should tell the next pres­i­dent all he or she needs to know about right­ing past wrongs.

Po­lit­i­cally, Mary­land may be at a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tage in at­tract­ing the new FBI head­quar­ters, but on the cold, hard facts, and most par­tic­u­larly on the so­cial jus­tice im­pli­ca­tions, the Old Line State ought to be in a po­si­tion to paint a new motto on its wel­come signs —“Home of the FBI” — within the next few years.


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