The new FBI headquarters was supposed to produce two big winners in the Washington region: either Prince George’s or Fairfax counties, where the new complex would go, and the District, which would get a new trophy building to replace the old FBI facility in a premier location on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Instead, the Trump administration’s decision to cancel the project has yielded nothing but losers. The demise of what was billed as the biggest commercial real estate deal of a generation has dashed hopes for lucrative new development in both the suburbs and city. It also has irritated local officials and private developers, who devoted years of effort and millions of dollars trying to win the prize.
“A lot of time and energy wasted,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova (D).
On Capitol Hill, Maryland Democratic lawmakers said the cancellation “puts America’s national security at risk” because the FBI’s current headquarters “is crumbling.” They also pushed back against the Trump administration’s claim that Congress failed to appropriate enough money for the project, and called on the FBI and General Services Administration to submit a new relocation plan to Congress.
“The reasons [given] for the cancellation just aren’t true,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said at a news conference.
But Cardin added he had no reason to think Trump acted to punish the FBI in light of the agency’s probe of his associates’ contact with Russia.
The politician most disappointed by the cancellation is probably Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). He dreamed that snaring the FBI would be the capstone of his two terms in office and energize his campaign to win the governorship in 2018. It would have offered further evidence that Prince George’s is a top-tier place to do business, capable of competing with its more affluent rivals, Montgomery and Fairfax counties.
“This would have been a really great story,” Baker said.
The cancellation is also a significant setback for the man Baker hopes to replace in Annapolis, Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Creating jobs in Maryland is a signature issue for Hogan, who kept his distance from Donald Trump during the presidential campaign and has continued to do so since the inauguration. On Tuesday, his spokesman blamed gridlock in Washington for halting the project.
“This is another incredibly disappointing example of the dysfunction that has been typical of Washington, D.C., for too long,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said.
Prince George’s was seen as the favorite to win the FBI deal because two of the three locations that were finalists were located there. They were Greenbelt and Landover, with Springfield, in Fairfax County, as the third.
Baker said the county has spent nearly $1 million for staff work over 4½ years trying to land the project. In addition, private developers and state transportation planners have spent millions on the effort.
Total government and private spending on the project to date is in the range of $50 million, according to an official in Maryland, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the figure was not an official estimate.
“Each developer team could have easily spent $3 million to $5 million” preparing their proposals, the official said, adding that the state spent at least $7 million on design and other planning for improvements in interchanges and other road work.
A spokesman for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) echoed the complaints about wasted time and effort.
“The Governor is disappointed that the Trump administration has pulled the plug on this process after Virginia and other jurisdictions spent years and significant resources on the federal government’s request for bids,” spokesman Brian Coy said.
In their Capitol Hill news conference, Maryland Democrats rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that Congress had shortchanged the project.
They said Congress set aside $913 million over two years to pay to replace the building, and the existing FBI headquarters is valued at $350 million to $500 million. That’s a total of up to $1.4 billion, or enough to cover the projected cost, they said.
“I’ve never seen a decision handled with more mismanagement and more negligence than this one,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said.
The Maryland official interviewed early Tuesday attributed the cancellation to uncertainty in the White House and Congress over whether to spend the necessary funds to build the new headquarters, and to delays in appointing top officials at the FBI and the GSA, which was overseeing the project.
“I see no GSA administrator, no FBI director. We certainly know that the disarray on the federal budget process is a problem,” the official said.
The official also said Maryland lost influence in federal Washington with the retirement of former senator Barbara A. Mikulski, who held a powerful position as ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I think we miss Barbara Mikulski more than anyone understands,” the official said.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (Va.), the only Republican in Congress representing the close-in Washington suburbs, said the FBI needed a “state -of-the-art facility” and that she would “work with our colleagues to find solutions going forward.”
In her 2016 reelection campaign, Comstock said as the only member of the majority party in Congress representing Northern Virginia, she could wield her influence to get things done.
Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), who had promoted the Springfield location, issued a statement saying he was “shocked and appalled” at the Trump administration’s decision.
“This project has been years in the making,” McKay said.
The District had looked forward to the prospect of building a new, high-end development in the heart of downtown to replace the current FBI building — considered one of the ugliest in the city.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) expressed hope that the current building would eventually be replaced.
“The FBI has been a good neighbor, but now it desperately needs a new home,” Bowser said. “Reclaiming this block in the central business district in the years to come will bring more jobs, retail and vibrancy to Penn Quarter. We stand ready to work with GSA and the FBI should the project move forward in another form.”
The cancellation also could have a silver lining for the city. If the federal government wants to save money on the project, it might consider a smaller campus than those being offered in Prince George’s or Fairfax, according to John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff.
He said the District would be able to offer such a location, possibly at Poplar Point, a stretch of undeveloped federal land near the Anacostia neighborhood.
“It might put us back in the running” to keep the headquarters, Falcicchio said.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D), who represents Ward 2 where the FBI building is located, welcomed the federal government’s decision in hopes the FBI would remain in the city.
“Poplar Point or St. Elizabeth’s [in Southeast] is a much better site,” Evans said. “It’s all federal land, with Metro stops. You could go over there and start building tomorrow.”