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As government narrows list of FBI headquarters sites, speculation mounts

Dan Tangherlini, administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), will soon announce finalist sites for a new FBI headquarters. (Bloomberg)

The federal government is expected to name a short list of sites it will consider for a future FBI headquarters campus in coming days, ending weeks of speculation about which locations best fit what some call an increasingly rigid set of requirements.

On June 2 the General Services Administration, which is managing the process, received proposals from developers and local governments interested in offering properties to the FBI for what might be the largest new federal campus since the CIA’s Langley headquarters was completed in 1961.

The search has drawn intense jockeying from local members of Congress, with both Virginia and Maryland politicos holding press events that felt like pep rallies on behalf of their states.

Among the sites that have likely been proposed are the parking lot area at Greenbelt Metro station, a combination of public and private land in Springfield, the former Landover Mall and Poplar Point, a waterfront property in Southeast D.C.

All of the above offer the possibility for construction of a 2.1 million-square-foot campus within two-and-a-half  miles of the Beltway and two miles of a Metro station, requirements that eliminated more than a dozen other locations.

But if the FBI competition is a beauty contest, many of the contestants are covered with warts.

There is a black box CIA facility on the Springfield site, for instance, and the National Park Service police still operate on Poplar Point. Neither has plans to move and both sites require environmental cleanup. Poplar Point is probably too small.

But the requirements for a site to qualify are stiff and some would argue they are getting stricter. Three sources familiar with the GSA’s search but who are not authorized to discuss it publicly said that in recent conversations with site teams GSA officials indicated a preference for sites that can provide 350-foot security setbacks around the FBI buildings.

That may be more land than Poplar Point or even Springfield can accommodate without prohibitive costs of adding fortress-like blast protections.

GSA spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said in a statement that laying out the security preferences didn’t constitute a change in rules, just a “review of minimum requirements” and pointed out that teams were given a deadline extension to “allow offerors time to better understand the site advertisements’ requirements and expectations and submit proposals that specifically address those requirements and expectations.”

Nonetheless, the 350-foot setback preference could force Virginia and D.C. leaders to consider other locations if they want the FBI.

Virginia and Fairfax County officials may have to take a second look at the Exxon Mobil campus in Merrifield, which is for sale or lease, even though putting the FBI there could dilute the county’s task base.

D.C. leaders may want to prepare for the possibility that the GSA could select a federally owned site even if one not submitted either by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) or any developer.

Two sources said the GSA is considering the Armed Forces Retirement Home off of North Capitol Street as a possible FBI headquarters site; one said the GSA is considering the eastern portion of the former Walter Reed Army hospital, which is still owned by the federal government but subject to an extensive planning effort by the D.C. government.

All the machinations are probably music to the ears of  Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Steny Hoyer, both Maryland Democrats, who have 82 acres lined up in Greenbelt and, just in case, another 88 in Landover.

The intrigue should end for good late next year, when the GSA plans to choose a site.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz