Let practicality, not politics, decide the FBI’s new home
Transit, convenience, security and cost should be weighed, not localities’ immigration stances.
IT WOULD be naive to imagine that politics would play no part in the selection of the FBI’s new headquarters location, a decision which is now imminent in a three-way competition involving two sites in suburban Maryland and one in Northern Virginia. Still, the process, terms and criteria by which the new campus is chosen matter, and there are right and wrong ways of going about it.
Moving the FBI from the hulking, brutalist J. Edgar Hoover building on Pennsylvania Avenue — obsolete after four decades in use, crumbling and able to accommodate fewer than half the bureau’s 11,000 employees — has been in the works for a decade. A sagging shelf’s-worth of studies has been devoted to the selection of a new, more than $2 billion headquarters, which has major implications not only for the bureau, but also for the region. The “winning” locality may expect a windfall in economic development and tax revenues; it may also grapple with a traffic headache whose mitigation will require major state and local spending.
The jockeying and lobbying to land the new facility — between Maryland and Virginia and, more specifically, between suburban Prince George’s and Fairfax counties — is healthy and normal. So is the back and forth over which site would provide the best access to mass transit, road and rail; which would offer cost savings or come freighted with foreseeable higher expenses; which would best withstand the environmental impact; which would be more secure and convenient for FBI employees; and which would make sense in regional terms.
Those are the right questions for consideration by the General Services Administration, which will manage the selection and development of the new campus, and for members of Congress and the administration overseeing the choice.
There are also toxic and irrelevant questions, including one posed by some conservatives who would make the decision a litmus test for the current culture war over immigration — namely, whether to blacklist the two sites in Prince George’s because of the county’s policy not to hold prisoners specifically at the request of federal immigration officials.
Never mind that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not issued any detainer requests to Prince George’s law enforcement agencies since the policy was adopted in 2014, according to the Washington Times. Never mind that one of the sites in Prince George’s, in Greenbelt, has excellent connections to Marc, Metro and Amtrak, or that the other, in Landover, is the largest of the three competing sites, shovel-ready and convenient to both to the District and major highways. It is enough, for a couple of people quoted in the Times article, that Prince George’s is considered by some as a “sanctuary” jurisdiction, while Fairfax is not.
It would be a milestone of bad government and rash decision-making if the political passions of the day overtook cool-headed deliberation of what would be best for the FBI, its workers and the region. The contours of the current debate over immigration will certainly change during the coming decades. Those of the FBI’s new headquarters will not.