Put the FBI headquarters in Prince George’s

Robert McCartney
Columnist December 5, 2012

The snide jokes popped up almost immediately after news broke that Prince George’s County was a top contender to become the FBI headquarters’ new home.

“PG is the place. They’ll be right by the site of half the crimes in the DC area,” one writer said in a comment on The Washington Post’s Web site.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

“Put it in PG, and a super max wing for the locals!” wrote another.

Laugh if you want. When the FBI leaves its outdated eyesore abode on Pennsylvania Avenue as planned, the right place to go is unquestionably Prince George’s.

Specifically, the bureau and its 11,000 jobs should go next to one of the county’s underused Metro stations. More specifically, they should probably go to the Greenbelt Metro station, close to both the Capital Beltway and a MARC station.

That’s the right call not just for Prince George’s but for the Washington area as a whole.

Fairfax County, the District and other jurisdictions will compete fiercely for the bureau. But the region should push the federal government to be a good neighbor and take into account the broader interest in what will probably be the biggest real estate decision here in a decade.

First, a Prince George’s site would spur economic development where it’s needed in the less-affluent, eastern part of our region.

Second, a transit-friendly site in Prince George’s would help reduce traffic throughout our area. That’s because a disproportionate share of people live in the east and commute to the west. Moving jobs to the east would help even it out.

I’m hardly alone in seeing it this way. Practically anybody who looks at what’s best for the region, overall, points to Prince George’s for the FBI.

“Personally, I think it’s a no-brainer they should go there,” said Doug Cooper, chair of the Urban Land Institute’s Washington Regionalism Initiative Council.

“We have to think about the fact that this [decision] really does have the opportunity to jump-start the economy, particularly on the eastern side of the region,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

“Prince George’s County would be an amazingly good decision, in the right place,” said David Robertson, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

We’re only at the start of the process. The General Services Administration will make the decision. It has to weigh a lot of factors, some of which Congress hasn’t set yet.

Prince George’s would have to be competitive on cost, safety and other important variables. The Greenbelt site looks best, but the county is also weighing other sites, including Branch Avenue and Landover Mall.

Politics will play a role. The Maryland and Northern Virginia congressional delegations, and the District’s Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) have already begun tussling, each issuing a news release.

It seems that the main rival to Prince George’s is a site by the Franconia-Springfield Metro station in Fairfax. Another possibility in Fairfax is a Merrifield site being vacated by Exxon-Mobil. Montgomery and other jurisdictions might also consider bidding for the FBI.

One matter in dispute is the potential desire of FBI employees themselves. All three jurisdictions are claiming an edge.

Prince George’s officials point to a Maryland state study issued in September showing that 43 percent of FBI headquarters employees reside in Maryland, compared with 33 percent in Virginia and 17 percent in the District.

But the Northern Virginia congressional delegation, in a letter sent Wednesday to the GSA, said Northern Virginia “is home to a significant majority of the FBI workforce that will be directly impacted by this decision.”

Norton said the FBI, like other agencies, prefers to stay in the District for access to Capitol Hill and the White House.

The FBI should have a say, but the region as a whole should have a bigger one.

Prince George’s is home to more than a quarter of the federal workforce in the core Metro area. Yet it has less than 4 percent of the region’s top-quality federally leased office space.

A step to correct that imbalance would be a plus for all of us.

I discuss local issues on Friday at 8:50 a.m. on WAMU (88.5 FM). For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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