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Virginia jousts with Maryland in final bid for FBI headquarters

Virginia launched its final pitch as both states prepare for a last presentation to the GSA to lure the FBI

The exterior of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the headquarters of the FBI, in Washington. The agency is looking for a new location for their headquarters. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
11 min

Virginia lawmakers have launched their final pitch to convince the federal government to build the FBI headquarters in their state, squaring off with Maryland power players who want it in Prince George’s County as the General Services Administration inches closer to a decision.

In a letter to the GSA and FBI submitted Feb. 3, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and most of the Virginia congressional delegation made a detailed case in hopes of swaying the federal government to see a site in Springfield, a 58-acre federally owned warehouse complex, as the optimal new home for the FBI, rather than locations in Landover and Greenbelt in Maryland.

Virginia lawmakers also sought to compete more aggressively with Maryland on one component that Maryland has sought to elevate: that building the FBI in their community advances racial equity. President Biden signed an executive order in 2021 that made advancing racial equity through federal agencies a priority, a move that considers the effects of federal investment in certain underserved communities.

“We didn’t want to shortchange ourselves in what we believe is a very powerful equity argument for Springfield, Fairfax” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who represents Springfield, said of the delegation’s decision to put more energy into making the racial-equity case for the site. “We’re a profoundly diverse community. Springfield itself is a majority-minority community.”

The decade-plus-long effort to build an FBI headquarters in the Washington region has long been a somewhat friendly competition between Virginia and Maryland congressional delegations — but that competition has grown increasingly tense, and sometimes unfriendly, as it reaches its last leg.

In an 11th-hour negotiation with Virginia congressional leaders, Maryland lawmakers secured language in a December federal spending bill that gave both states 90 more days to make final presentations to the General Services Administration. Now, those consultations will begin in the coming weeks.

The agency is preparing to select the FBI headquarters location using five criteria: weighted most at 35 percent is serving the FBI mission, including proximity to the FBI Academy in Quantico and the Justice Department; as well as transportation access (25 percent); development flexibility (15 percent); promoting racial equity and sustainable siting (15 percent); and cost to acquire and prepare the site (10 percent).

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Causing tension with Virginia leaders, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) unsuccessfully sought to adjust how the criteria was weighted through language in the spending bill. They believe the current weighting unfairly advantages the Springfield location for its proximity to Quantico, and de-prioritizes racial equity and cost.

As Hoyer sees it: “What do you think the chances are of Maryland being closer to Virginia than Virginia is?”

“The way they weighted this thing is just wrong,” said Cardin, arguing it doesn’t make sense to put so much stock into proximity to Quantico and less into equity and cost. “It looks like it’s just aimed at trying to help tilt the scales towards Virginia. So we think that’s wrong. It’s inconsistent with the intent of Congress, and we’re going to make that point very clearly.”

Hoyer said Maryland is seeking to give equal weight to each criteria. But their efforts rankled the Virginia delegation, which believes the weighting is sound and that lawmakers should not use their muscle to “micromanage” the GSA’s selection process, as Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) put it.

Warner said he welcomed new criteria about serving underserved communities, noting lawmakers’ eagerness to expand on Northern Virginia’s broad racial and religious diversity. But he also said it made sense to weight serving the FBI mission most heavily, including proximity to Quantico, if the FBI thought that was important — and that Congress should leave changes alone.

“We’re happy to have that be an essential criteria,” Warner said of the racial-equity component. “But we also think, you know, the leading criteria has always been what is also in the best interests of the men and women who work at the FBI.”

FBI spokeswoman Sofia Kettler said in a statement that proximity to Quantico was included because the FBI Academy “is a core part of FBI day-to-day operations, today and in the future.” Asked if the FBI had a preference among the three sites, Kettler said the agency wants “a new headquarters solution that best meets the needs of the FBI and our workforce, and is a good deal for the taxpayers.”

While the Marylanders say they are still ready to win the headquarters under the existing criteria, they are also not done fighting for what they say should be fairer rules, setting up one final battle in the dizzying bureaucratic saga of the FBI headquarters hunt.

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Asked whether the criteria was set in stone, and to respond to Maryland’s criticisms, the GSA simply said the agency would hear everyone out.

“GSA and FBI are committed to deliberate and thoughtful engagement with our partners in Congress on this project, including through consultations outlined in the appropriations act,” the GSA said in a statement. “We look forward to receiving feedback from stakeholders and are also committed to a fair and transparent process that results in selecting a site that best meets the needs of the FBI and the American people over the long-term.”

The Virginians’ nine-page letter to the GSA makes clear that the congressional delegation and Youngkin intend to forge ahead under the existing rules. Three Virginia Republicans — Bob Good, H. Morgan Griffith and Ben Cline — did not sign the letter.

Although they devoted more energy to racial equity, a main thrust of their argument centers on Springfield’s proximity to key federal assets, such as the FBI Academy, the CIA and an FBI archives facility. Connolly said with those advantages — combined with easy access to public transportation, airports and the Beltway — the Springfield site offers a “synergy” to make it the most desirable option for the FBI.

“If you’re going to go to the trouble of building a new one, wouldn’t you want your headquarters relatively close to an existing FBI facility, your training academy? Well, that happens to be in Quantico,” Connolly said. “Wouldn’t you like it to be relatively close to your records and archives facility? Well, that happens to be in Winchester,” he said, also noting the presence of the Pentagon and CIA in Virginia.

The Springfield site is near the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, which the Virginia delegation sees as a benefit — although the 61-acre Greenbelt location under consideration is located at the Greenbelt station. As a result, the Maryland delegation says it expects to win any public transportation competition. The Marylanders have also highlighted the proximity of Greenbelt and Landover to other assets, such as the Greenbelt U.S. district courthouse and the National Security Agency.

Still, what the two sides have increasingly debated is equity: the idea that investment from the federal government in underserved or marginalized communities can lift them economically, and also allow the federal government to build a presence in communities that reflect the nation’s diversity. “This relocation presents the opportunity to begin a new, long overdue chapter for the agency,” Team Maryland described in a document laying out its case that it gave to The Washington Post, seeking to argue that the FBI can mend a historically poor relationship with the Black community.

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Maryland came out swinging last fall on the racial-equity argument, with a news conference and letters from civil rights groups to make its case. Prince George’s is one of the most populous majority-Black counties in the country, but Maryland lawmakers argue that it has been “overlooked” compared to Fairfax County when it comes to federal investment, suggesting it could amount to discrimination.

However, a Post analysis of the GSA’s database of federal property — which it will use as part of the FBI site selection process — shows Prince George’s actually has more federal property and federal office space than Fairfax. Including assets such as NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, the data show Prince George’s has roughly twice as much federal property, including nearly twice as much federal office space, as Fairfax — 20.1 million square feet to Fairfax’s roughly 9.7 million. (Some national security-related buildings appear to be missing from the database, though the GSA did not respond to questions by deadline.)

Maryland lawmakers, however, have also focused on leased federal office space, which offers property tax benefits for local governments, as opposed to federally owned property. Fairfax has more than twice as much federally leased office space compared to Prince George’s, according to The Post’s analysis.

Hoyer pointed to the broader economic development projects that have sprouted in Northern Virginia: the defense industry and development in Rosslyn and Crystal City around the Pentagon, and more recently, in private development, Amazon’s HQ2. The prestige of an FBI headquarters building, he argued, would invite that type of economic development to Prince George’s.

“The reason it’s so important and why the county and the state feel so strongly about it is because, if you put a building of this quality with the kind of people that are working there, you will substantially advantage a county which has been undervalued by the federal government development,” Hoyer said.

Virginia’s letter to the GSA seems to answer Maryland on this point.

“Why would we concede the equity argument or the racial diversity argument to anybody?” Connolly said, disputing the idea that Prince George’s is underserved by the federal government.

Fairfax has grown increasingly diverse over the past decade and is now majority-minority, with large populations of Asian Americans and Hispanic residents. That diversity extends into surrounding localities, the Virginia team noted, describing large populations of Central American immigrants and households where English is a second language in places such as eastern Prince William County.

Fairfax is also among the richest counties in the country, with a median household income of about $134,000, while Prince George’s has a median household income of about $90,000, according to census data. That information will be used to score the equity criteria, along with other markers.

Of the five criteria, the least weighted is cost. Van Hollen, who chairs a Senate appropriations subcommittee with oversight of the GSA, called that “outrageous.”

“How you make the cost consideration only [weighted] 10 percent, especially in a project this expensive, is hard to understand,” agreed Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), who represents Prince George’s. “These are taxpayer dollars that we’re talking about.”

The federal government already controls the property at the Springfield site, eliminating acquisition costs. But there are also federal tenants already in place, and the GSA did not immediately respond to a question about cost projections for relocating them and preparing the site. In 2016, the GSA projected relocation costs could be more than $200 million.

The offices of Warner and Youngkin referred questions about funding incentives to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. A VEDP spokeswoman, Suzanne Clark, said the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission approved a funding package, largely related to transportation upgrades around the Springfield site to accommodate the FBI’s needs. She said the panel is keeping the funding details confidential “to uphold the integrity” of the process.

Maryland has pre-authorized $200 million in state funding in fiscal 2024 and 2025 for the possible FBI development in Landover, a privately owned 80-acre site, or Greenbelt, seeking to lower federal costs of acquisition and development for the project. The state of Maryland and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority own the Greenbelt site.

Prince George’s officials also previously discussed providing funding for certain infrastructure upgrades around the sites. A spokeswoman for County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) declined to comment on funding discussions.

The Maryland and Virginia consultations with the GSA are expected to begin the week of Feb. 27 or March 6.

John Harden contributed to this report.