Let prac­ti­cal­ity, not politics, de­cide the FBI’s new home

Tran­sit, con­ve­nience, se­cu­rity and cost should be weighed, not lo­cal­i­ties’ im­mi­gra­tion stances.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

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.

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