The Washington Post
Va. makes its case to GSA on FBI relocation
Lawmakers from Virginia launched their final bid on Thursday to sway the General Services Administration to select a site in Springfield as the new home of the FBI headquarters over two Maryland locations — although the fierce political battle with lawmakers from Maryland appears far from over.
Emerging from the consultation with the GSA, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA.) said at a news conference that Virginia’s intent was not to “say anything negative” about Maryland’s sites, only to make the case that Virginia’s could best meet the needs of the FBI on a variety of factors.
He began by stressing the Springfield site’s proximity to other FBI and national security assets — the most highly weighted criteria that the GSA will use to select the new headquarters location in what Maryland sees as an unfair benefit to Virginia.
“We didn’t write the criteria. . . . What we have done is, once the criteria are on the table, we made the case that the Springfield site best meets the criteria,” Kaine said. “The most important is compatibility with the mission of the FBI. This is the nation’s security that we’re talking about. That has to be the primary component. And we believe for dozens of reasons, the siting of FBI in close proximity to so many sister agencies who have to work together, not in silos, [makes] the Virginia site so strong.”
On paper, the debate over where to move the FBI headquarters is dense and administrative, with a mixture of factors including cost, transportation access and proximity to buildings such as the FBI training academy in Quantico and the Justice Department. But politically the debate is a highstakes war in the court of public
opinion between lawmakers in both states who see major economic benefits or prestige that the new FBI headquarters could bring to their communities. The debate became even more intense after President Biden issued an executive order adding racial equity as a factor to consider in selecting locations for federal projects.
And in back-to-back news conferences held on Wednesday and Thursday, Team Maryland and Team Virginia continued to up the ante, especially on the issues of racial equity and cost.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D), the state’s first Black governor, said in an interview earlier this week that winning the headquarters in Prince George’s, a majorityBlack county, is personal for him. He appeared Wednesday alongside Maryland political heavy-hitters and called on Biden to “honor” his administration’s commitment to racial equity by selecting one of the two possible Maryland sites in Landover or Greenbelt. He implored decision-makers not to “make a mockery of the president nor his executive orders.” And on Thursday, he and the congressional Democrats representing Maryland followed through on their pressure on the Biden administration with a letter to the president himself.
“While providing the very best location for the FBI at the very best price for the American taxpayers, you can be responsible for writing this new chapter in both law enforcement and racial justice that embraces communities that were overlooked, underserved, and outright avoided for generations,” read the letter, also signed by County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller.
The officials from Maryland used part of their consultation with the GSA on Wednesday to try to sway agency to change how criteria is weighted so that racial equity, and all factors, get equal consideration. They bristle particularly that the FBI mission requirement, including proximity to Quantico, Va., is weighted at 35 percent compared with 15 percent for racial equity, and see it as unfair to federal taxpayers that cost is only weighted at 10 percent.
On Thursday, Kaine and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA.) pushed back, arguing that the ship has sailed on trying to rejigger the criteria and that both sides should play by the existing rules to make the most convincing case. They said they found it inappropriate to call on the president as Maryland pushes to change how the criteria is weighted.
“It has been stunning to me that some have said maybe the needs of the FBI somehow shouldn’t be considered so highly,” Warner said. “We’re making a 50-year decision for the men and women of the FBI.”
He and Kaine pointed to proximity not only to Quantico but also to the CIA in Langley, arguing that both agencies would benefit from more collaboration, and also pointed to Fairfax County’s wellperforming public school system as another reason the FBI would want to come to Springfield.
Responding to Moore’s remarks about Biden’s executive order, Warner said that he and fellow lawmakers from Virginia “welcome the equity comparison” as they stressed the increasing racial, ethnic and religious diversity in the Northern Virginia region over the past decade.
On the cost factor, Maryland introduced new information on Wednesday that intensified the argument over which site would be cheapest for taxpayers.
Virginia has long held that the Springfield site benefits taxpayers because it is already owned by the federal government, eliminating acquisition costs. Classified tenants are currently occupying space on that site, and it would cost money to relocate them. Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stressed on Thursday that those costs are separate from the FBI project because the classified tenants intend to relocate regardless of where the new FBI headquarters is built.
But Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD.) argued that, even considering all of that, the Maryland sites are still cheaper. He asserted at the Wednesday news conference that it would cost over a billion more dollars more to situate the new FBI headquarters in Springfield versus in Landover or Greenbelt — cost estimates that Warner said are “totally wrong, out of left field and have no basis in fact.”
Van Hollen provided to The Washington Post a 2018 document created by the GSA and the FBI from which he said he got his information. The document was created by the agencies at a time when the FBI was still considering remaining in downtown D.C. at the J. Edgar Hoover building.
According to the document, maintaining the crumbling Hoover building would cost $42 million per year, plus $142 million annually for additional leased office space the FBI has elsewhere in the region. The agencies estimated the cost of delaying construction of a new headquarters, which would consolidate its workforce, would go up $84 million per year because of inflationary pressures, and they warned that “delay=increased cost.”
In an interview, Van Hollen noted a key distinction between the Virginia and Maryland sites is that the federal tenants that are located at the Springfield location not only must be relocated, but those structures also would have to be demolished before construction of a new headquarters begins. He estimated that all of that would take three years, citing information he received in a private briefing as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
To arrive at the claim that it would cost over $1 billion to select Springfield, he added up the annual costs of inaction — $268 million — and multiplied that by three years. He included an additional $160 million in what the FBI and the GSA described as “potential emergency repairs” the longer the FBI remained in the Hoover building. Lastly, he rounded up to over $1 billion considering it will also cost money to demolish the existing federal buildings and relocate the other federal tenant, the GSA, which has a warehouse at the site. He acknowledged the GSA has not provided cost estimates for demolition or its own relocation, but he said he considered the $1 billion figure conservative.
In a joint statement, spokeswomen for Warner and Kaine objected to Van Hollen’s conclusion, standing by Virginia’s insistence that the fact that the Springfield site is already federally owned means it would be “faster, cheaper and more efficient to site the new headquarters in Springfield.”
“If anything, it is the push by the Maryland delegation to redraw the selection criteria at the eleventh hour that has the potential to further delay this vitally important national security priority and further drive up the costs of the project,” said the spokeswomen, Rachel Cohen and Katie Stuntz.
The GSA did not respond to questions about the 2018 cost estimates. A spokesman for the agency said in a statement: “We want to thank the Maryland and Virginia delegations for their thoughtful input and engagement on this important project. GSA and FBI are committed to fully considering the feedback we receive as we work to ensure a fair and transparent process that results in a site that will best serve the FBI and the American people for generations to come.”
The spokesman said that the GSA will consider next steps on the site selection process in the coming weeks after it digests all the information that Maryland and Virginia provided during their consultations this week.