When I read the latest reports of the General Service Administration’s plans to move FBI headquarters out of Washington, D.C. earlier this week, I was reminded of a recent conversation I had with a retired GSA realty contracting officer who had been trying for decades to get GSA to locate prime federal offices in Prince George’s.
“They’ll tell you, ‘Well, Prince George’s County doesn’t have the infrastructure, doesn’t have the quality schools, they have a high crime rate.’ All of these are code words for ‘black folk,” he told me. “So, they have essentially redlined Prince George’s County.”
My dear Uncle Butch, a.k.a. William Fuller of Mitchellville, who retired from GSA in 2008 after 25 years, has been passionate about locating federal offices in Prince George’s County for a long time. When I called him a few months ago to tell him I’d be writing about the people and passions of the county, immediately he pitched his most heartfelt concern.
“Prince George’s, right now, is in desperate need of jobs, and who is the major employer in this region? The federal government,” he said. He believes the federal government’s refusal to invest in Prince George’s has left the county at a certain economic disadvantage historically.
“The federal government is the 800-pound gorilla in the Washington region. The federal government leases the most office space in this region — 75 million square feet in the Washington region, and what do you think Prince George’s share is?”
“I have no idea,” I sighed. At the time I was only aware of the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters located in Suitland, but later I learned that the IRS has offices in New Carrollton.
“I’m going to tell you. It’s less than 5 percent,” he said. “D.C. has about 40 percent, which is probably to be expected. But northern Virginia has 21 percent, and Montgomery County has 12-15 percent,” he added.
Sure enough, according to the 2007 University of Maryland study entitled “GSA Leasing in the Greater Washington Metropolitan Region,” only 3.9 percent of the office space leased by GSA is in Prince George’s County despite the fact that 25.7 percent of the federal work force lives there. According to the same study, Alexandria has 5.3 percent of GSA’s office leasing space, more leasing space than all of Prince George’s County.
GSA announced Monday morning it is seeking proposals from developers interested in working on the project to relocate FBI headquarters. U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) released a statement touting Prince George’s appeal.
“With 15 Metro stations and close proximity to our nation’s capital, Prince George’s County boasts an environment for transit-oriented development well-suited for the FBI and its employees,” Edwards said. “In addition, Prince George’s County has a large, well-trained federal workforce, an AAA bond rating that continues to attract investment, and locations close to the new and growing Department of Homeland Security in Southeast, D.C., and our regional airports.”
Edwards cited the 11,000 FBI jobs that would also benefit the county. The move would “spur economic development, and generate revenue the county needs to invest in healthcare and education,” Edwards added. “This is a tremendous opportunity, both for the county and the Bureau, and I will continue to work with our delegation, county officials, and concerned parties to help make the FBI’s move to Prince George’s County a reality.”
Moments later, a missive was sent from County Executive Rushern Baker’s (D) office. “With more land available for development at its 15 Metro stations than any other jurisdiction in the Metropolitan area, Prince George’s County has identified several locations that would be ideal for the new FBI home.” He added, “This is a once in a generation federal relocation opportunity…With the support of our Congressional and State delegations as well as the O’Malley-Brown administration, we will work diligently to build a strong case to convince the federal government that relocating the FBI to Prince George’s County would be good for the State of Maryland and the region.”
This was the kind of united front my dear uncle told me had been lacking in previous years. “In Prince George’s, the congressional delegation, state representatives and local officials have to establish a solid campaign to address the federal government, essentially GSA (which leases space for government offices),” he said. “They’ve got to be in concert with each other. They can’t do it piece mill. That’s how Northern Virginia has been doing it for decades.”
GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini told The Post’s Jonathan O'Connell, “We are really committed to work with [Prince George’s County] to help find ways to help them compete more aggressively within the overall space requirements, however we are in a mode right now where we are really looking at consolidation. So that situation is going to get more competitive.”
Granted, the U.S. Census Bureau’s presence in Suitland since 1942, with new buildings opened there in 2007, has not spurred the kind of development county officials can showcase, but that should not stop GSA – and state officials – from locating offices in the county.
“Given our population, our wealth and the vast number of Metro stations, I think we should be primed for getting awarded an agency,” said David C. Harrington, a former county councilman and former state senator now working as president and CEO for the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce. “The impact for businesses would be huge…there’s always a domino effect. When you have a government agency move in, it bodes well for being able to attract other businesses.”
But the retired GSA senior leasing officer thinks Prince George’s will not get a fair shot. “They’ll find all kinds of unique requirements to eliminate Prince George’s,” he said. Here’s hoping GSA’s alleged practices of the past will not prevail.
Montgomery is a columnist for The RootDC.
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