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Saturday, May 25, 2024

In Battle for FBI HQ, Md. Leaders Say There Is a ‘Finger on the Scale’

'We started out believing that there was going to be one set of rules – that the 100 yard dash was going to be the 100 yard dash... '

(Madison Hirneisen, The Center Square) Maryland officials said Wednesday the current criteria for the selection of the new Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters puts the “finger on the scale” toward Virginia, arguing the criteria needs to be re-evaluated to ensure a fair process.

Maryland leaders made their case Wednesday for why they believe the FBI’s new headquarters should be built in their state, representing the latest discussion in an ongoing competition with Virginia for site selection.

State officials and Maryland’s congressional delegation met with federal officials at the General Services Administration headquarters in Washington D.C. Wednesday to discuss site selection for the FBI’s new headquarters, which will replace the agency’s deteriorating headquarters in D.C.

Two Maryland sites in Prince George’s County are under consideration for the FBI’s new headquarters — one located in Greenbelt and the other in Landover. The other site under consideration is located in Springfield, Virginia. These three final sites were selected from an initial batch of 35 potential sites, officials said Wednesday.

Virginia leaders are set to make their case to GSA officials Thursday about why the Springfield site may be the best fit for the agency’s new headquarters. In a letter to the GSA last month, Virginia’s congressional delegation and Gov. Glenn Youngkin argued the Springfield site meets the agency’s criteria and “presents the government with a comprehensive and holistic candidate location to house the FBI.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Maryland officials said they raised concerns to the GSA – the sole agency authorized by Congress to finalize the FBI headquarter site selection – about the selection criteria directing officials to consider proximity to the FBI Academy in Quantico. Maryland officials say this criteria point, which was only added in September 2022, provides an unfair advantage to Virginia.

“We know that Maryland and Virginia are not competing on equal footing – not because of anything that Maryland lacks, but because the selection process that was changed last September gives away points to our friends across the Potomac,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said during a press conference in D.C. Wednesday.

In September, the GSA published their Site Selection Plan, outlining five criteria for officials to consider when evaluating the options for the FBI’s second headquarters – the FBI’s mission requirements, transportation access, site development flexibility, advancing equity and cost. Serving the FBI’s mission is weighted the highest at 35%, while cost is weighted the lowest at 10%.

In the sub-criteria for considering the FBI’s Mission is a point directing officials to consider “proximity of the site to the FBI Academy Quantico,” which is in Virginia. Maryland officials said Wednesday proximity to Quantico as a consideration for site selection was first discussed in 2022 – 11 years into the site selection process for the FBI’s headquarters.

In a letter to the GSA Wednesday, Maryland officials wrote they were concerned about the “surprise emphasis” on proximity to Quantico, arguing it “put a finger on the scale toward one site and is not based on any real needed requirement of the FBI to carry out its vital national security mission.”

Congressman Kwesi Mfume, D-Md., reiterated this concern in remarks Wednesday, using a sports analogy to underscore the impact of the September 2022 criteria change.

“We started out believing that there was going to be one set of rules – that the 100 yard dash was going to be the 100 yard dash,” Mfume said. “Then when we start to run in the game, and all of a sudden, it’s a 200 yard dash. And then in September of last year, somebody put their finger on the scale and changed the rules. So all of a sudden, the things that we worked around and prepared for and developed were no longer as important.”

Maryland officials also argued Wednesday the two sites in Prince George’s County are a better deal for taxpayers in the long run. Moore said the headquarters would be built “faster and cheaper” in Maryland, while other officials claimed locating the headquarters in Virginia would cost federal taxpayers more than either Maryland site.

“It is so clear to anyone who looks at the criteria that’s been set out over the last 10 years that Prince George’s County objectively is the strongest site for the FBI headquarters to be relocated,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Wednesday. “This site results in preserving taxpayer dollars.”

Maryland leaders said they discussed their concerns about the criteria surrounding Quantico with GSA and FBI officials Wednesday, specifically asking officials to eliminate the criteria tied to Quantico and to place equal weight on all five criteria under consideration. Officials also said Wednesday they want the GSA to place more equal consideration on the equity criteria of the site selection process, which is currently weighted at 15%.

Leaders overall expressed confidence Wednesday that under “objective standards,” Maryland is the best location for the FBI’s new headquarters. Officials pointed to commuter rail and bus access at both sites to fulfill the transportation criteria and said both Maryland sites are “ready to go in every sense,” noting both sites are available to begin construction quickly.

On equity, officials noted in their letter to the GSA that Prince George’s County is the only majority Black jurisdiction in the National Capital Region. They also pointed out that the county currently has 48% of federal warehouse space and 20% of the federal workforce in the National Capital Region, but the county only has 4% of federal office leased space.

“Fairfax County has almost triple the federal office leased space and about half the federal warehouse space as Prince George’s County,” the letter sates. “According to Prince George’s County officials, 72% of county residents must leave the county for work each day.”

Moore told reporters Wednesday the timeline for when a decision will be made on site selection is unclear. He said the GSA indicated “this is the highest priority.”

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