POLITICIANS IN Virginia and Maryland have squared off over which state will be home to a sprawling new headquarters for the FBI, to replace the brutalist J. Edgar Hoover Building downtown, where it has been since 1975. But privately, some Virginia honchos are throwing in the towel before the contest has technically begun, in the belief they are up against an unstoppable force in Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Along with the rest of her state’s congressional delegation, Ms. Mikulski is on record as wanting the FBI to relocate to Prince George’s County.
In stark political terms, that may be right. Luckily, putting the FBI in Prince George’s may also be right on the merits.
The FBI employs some 11,000 people here, about half of them at the Hoover Building, the other half scattered among more than 20 satellite office buildings around the area. To consolidate, the government is seeking a site of some 50 acres to accommodate 2.1 million square feet of office space — about the same as the Empire State Building — plus several thousand parking spots. The other criteria listed by the General Services Administration (GSA) are spare: The site must meet rigorous security standards, be near the Beltway and be accessible by Metro.
Spare or not, those criteria culled the competition, all but eliminating potential sites in the District and all but a handful in the suburbs. Virginia officials rallied around a site near the Franconia-Springfield Metro station in Fairfax County, and Maryland officials endorsed one at the Greenbelt Metro station, the Green Line terminus in Prince George’s.
The Washington region’s imbalance — between prosperous and job-rich western suburbs and less well-off, mainly residential eastern ones — makes a compelling case in Prince George’s favor. Fairfax is already clogged with morning commuter traffic heading for jobs in Tysons Corner and the I-95 corridor. By contrast, Prince George’s is the source, but rarely the destination, of tens of thousands of federal workers.
According to Prince George’s officials, 25 percent of the region’s federal workforce lives in the county but less than 4 percent of the region’s leased federal office space is there. Maryland officials maintain that more FBI officials live there than in Virginia. The logic of balancing traffic flows and economic development suggests the region would benefit from locating the FBI in Prince George’s.
Prince George’s fared poorly as jobs and businesses flocked to the western suburbs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In those years, Prince George’s suffered from high crime and a corrupt government. But the county has changed. A beefed-up police force and forward-thinking county officials are attracting major commercial projects and rebranding Prince George’s. They’re making a persuasive bid for the FBI campus, based partly on the fact that it could be built across the street from the Greenbelt Metro station, on land now owned by Metro. The Fairfax site is slightly farther from Metro and might require workers to use shuttle buses.
A recommendation from the GSA is expected next year after an environmental impact study. Congress will have the final word. A balanced approach to economic development should be among its criteria.