Montgomery bids for new FBI headquarters, to dismay of Prince George’s officials

December 21, 2012

Montgomery County is joining the competition for a new FBI headquarters, complicating neighboring Prince George’s County’s efforts to be the sole Maryland jurisdiction vying for the building and the thousands of jobs it would bring.

Steven A. Silverman, Montgomery’s economic development director, confirmed that he is soliciting local developers and consulting with federal agencies about potential sites. The proposed FBI headquarters would replace the aging J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, which officials have said is overcrowded and has antiquated systems that need substantial updating.

Federal officials are looking for up to 55 acres and 2.1 million square feet of office space.

“Any jurisdiction which has the opportunity to have the FBI in it would be crazy not to figure out how to get the job done,” Silverman said.

Fairfax County is also competing for the FBI headquarters, and Alexandria officials recently said they are looking into bidding.

Montgomery’s effort surprised Prince George’s officials, who said they thought they would be alone in Maryland vying for the lucrative deal. Last year, Prince George’s lost out to Montgomery for a $450 million lease for a federal Health and Human Services office complex that instead is remaining in Rockville.

“We are disappointed with Montgomery, but that is their prerogative,” said David S. Iannucci, an economic development official who is leading the effort in Prince George’s to bring in new businesses and federal installations.

In a solicitation to real estate developers earlier this month, Dan Tangherlini, the acting administrator of the General Services Administration, proposed swapping the Hoover building site on Pennsylvania Avenue for a new FBI campus somewhere in the region. The Hoover building is deteriorating, according to a GSA report. Security could also be enhanced at a campus-like setting.

Prince George’s has complained for years that it has been shortchanged by the federal government. Only 3.9 percent of the Washington area’s federally leased office space is in the county, even though about
25 percent of the region’s federal workers live there.

More than 60 percent of residents commute out of the county for work, adding to regional traffic congestion, a 2007 study noted.

Prince George’s County’s effort to secure the FBI campus has been endorsed by several key lawmakers in Maryland’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D).

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Rep.-elect John Delaney (D), who represent Montgomery County, did not sign the endorsement letter for the Prince George’s site. Bridgett Frey, Van Hollen’s spokeswoman, said he “would welcome the FBI moving to suburban Maryland and believes that all sites meeting the FBI’s criteria should be considered. The focus should be on achieving the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Mikulski, who is assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, would be in a pivotal position to help steer the deal to Prince George’s, as is Hoyer, a high-ranking member of the Democratic leadership.

Members of the Virginia delegation, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) and Reps. Gerald E. Connolly (D), James P. Moran (D) and Rob Wittman (R), are pushing for a Northern Virginia site.

Iannucci, the Prince George’s official, said local and state economic development officials talked at a recent meeting about backing the county’s bid. But Silverman said Friday that neither he nor any other Montgomery representative attended that meeting.

Laura Neuman, head of Howard County’s economic development authority, asked at that meeting whether any jurisdiction besides Prince George’s was competing for the FBI, and no one spoke up, she said. A joint letter endorsing the Prince George’s bid from the group of officials has been in the works, Iannucci said. Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development has also been working on efforts to promote Prince George’s as the site for the FBI.

“I think a unified bid is in the best interest of Maryland and Prince George’s,” Iannucci said.

Iannucci said that relocating the FBI in Prince George’s could also help relieve Beltway congestion because many commuters who work for the agency would come into the county, reversing current traffic patterns.

“It would reduce the flow of traffic going west in the morning,” he said. “What is good for Fairfax and good for Montgomery is not necessarily good for the Washington region.”

Miranda Spivack writes about government and politics in the suburbs, based in the Post’s bureau in Largo in Prince George’s County.
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