Biden administration revives longtime effort to relocate the FBI headquarters Maryland and Virginia officials are once again vying to land the new FBI headquarters.
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Biden administration revives longtime effort to relocate the FBI headquarters

The FBI has been headquarted at the J. Edgar Hoover building since 1977. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

President Joe Biden revived a years-long debate on where to relocate the FBI headquarters in his proposed $5.8 trillion budget for 2023.

The Biden administration determined–as previous administrations have–that the deteriorating, 2.8-million-square-foot Brutalist building in downtown — once dubbed the world's ugliest building — is no longer suitable to house thousands of federal employees. "The J. Edgar Hoover building can no longer support the long-term mission of the FBI," the administration wrote in the budget request.

There's long been consensus among federal officials that the FBI's main offices can no longer be housed inside the aging Hoover building, but not much consensus beyond that. Led by the Maryland delegation, Congress requested to have the the FBI headquarters relocate to the suburbs in its fiscal 2022 spending bill passed earlier this month. The Biden administration did not clarify the location for the new headquarters in its proposed budget this week, but jumpstarted a multi-year process of securing a suburban facility for 7,5000 employees and another one based in D.C. for 750 to 1,000 employees.

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Meanwhile, the FBI says that even with a suburban campus, the agency should continue to have a base in downtown D.C. A national spokesperson for the FBI wrote in an email to DCist/WAMU: "The FBI appreciates that Congress and the Administration recognize the need for a new facility for its workforce. Our mission to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution requires that we be centered in downtown DC—accessible to the public and tied closely with the Justice Department's leadership, its components such as the National Security and Civil Rights Divisions, and our other partners. The development of a new consolidated FBI cyber campus in the suburbs, where most of the government's cyber workforce in the region is already situated, would support our workforce and advance our mission."

As the search gets underway, Maryland and Virginia officials are reviving their pitches for the new headquarters, anticipating the project will result in new jobs and tax revenue. It's estimated to be a $2.5 billion dollar boon to whichever jurisdiction lands the project.

The FBI and the General Services Administration, the U.S. agency responsible for federal buildings, are tasked with determining requirements for the new facilities and the number of personnel to be assigned to each, as well as ultimately acquiring the facilities. GSA needs to submit final action to acquire any site to Congress.

The FBI has been in talks with the GSA about a new headquarters since 2004. In a report authored over a decade ago, the Government Accountability Office called the current building "functionally obsolete" and said a new, consolidated headquarters was urgently needed. The property had $80 million in deferred maintenance, and staffing levels long ago outgrew the facility's capacity.

During the Obama administration, the FBI and GSA narrowed their search to three possible sites for the new headquarters, two in Prince George's County and the third in Fairfax County. But the Trump administration cancelled the FBI headquarters solicitation in 2017. Congress referenced these previously selected sites in the fiscal 2022 spending bill signed by Biden.

Various Maryland officials, including Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks — applauded the move to build a new FBI headquarters. "We look forward to working with President Biden and his Administration to continue advancing this project, and are confident the Maryland sites in Greenbelt and Landover are the best locations for a consolidated FBI headquarters location," they said the statement.

David Iannucci, CEO and president of Prince George's County Economic Development Corporation, told DCist/WAMU that relocating the FBI headquarters to Greenbelt or Landover would dramatically reshape the local economy, calling the move a "generation shaping change." He says Prince George's County could see 25,000 new jobs because in addition to federal jobs, the FBI would attract companies and vendors who work with law enforcement. While he argues that the GSA should select Greenbelt or Landover because sites there are Metro accessible and offer other amenities, he emphasized moving the FBI headquarters to Prince George's County is also a matter of equity.

"If you look historically at the allocation of federal office jobs in the Washington region, Prince George's County has been bypassed far too often," Iannucci said. "We have about 5% of federal office jobs, but we have more than 30% of federal office workers. And too many of our federal office workers have to leave the county every day, get on Metro, get on a crowded Beltway."

"When you look at the region overall where growth is projected — and all the great things that have happened in northern Virginia," he continues, "Those were decisions that were made by the federal government."

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McKay empathizes with his neighbors in Maryland, but believes Virginia has the better pitch. "We want them to succeed as much as we want to succeed," he tells DCist/WAMU. "Virginia and Maryland are structured very differently at the state level in terms of attracting economic development."

McKay says the 70-acre GSA warehouse campus in Springfield is a superior site for the facility because it is near the commuter rail station that connects to Quantico, Virginia, where the FBI's training academy is located. The site is also next to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's new headquarters. "We believe there's huge national security synergy that could take place here with the FBI ," McKay says.

D.C. did not make the shortlist for the new FBI headquarters in 2014. But whether the FBI retains a presence in D.C. or not, redeveloping the Hoover building will be a boon for the city. D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio hopes the federal government considers converting some of the vacant office space into residential housing, which keeps with the mayor's goal of reviving downtown.

"The federal government has long considered relocating the FBI headquarters," Falcicchio tells DCist/WAMU, "and we believe the relocation must allow for the current site to be revitalized into a vibrant mixed use destination that includes housing along a reimagined Pennsylvania Avenue NW corridor."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

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