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Bid for FBI building sets off regional competition

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm •  Published: April 20, 2013

Maryland officials are pushing a site near a mass transit station in Prince George's County, which officials say is already home to about a quarter of the region's federal workforce as well as agencies and installations like NASA and Joint Base Andrews, a military facility.

Virginia officials have touted a GSA warehouse facility in Fairfax County — between the existing headquarters and the FBI training academy in Quantico — which they say would allow for easy access to the airports, Capitol Hill and the White House.

The states have selectively cited studies and statistics to bolster their case. Maryland officials say more headquarters employees live in their state than in D.C. or Virginia; representatives from Virginia have made similar assertions.

The debate has also included discussion of the region's demographic and economic differences. Fairfax County, ranked among the nation's highest-income counties, says the headquarters would be another boon to an already-thriving region, while Prince George's County officials see a chance to help the county catch up to its more affluent neighbors.

"These sorts of locations and these sorts of decisions are not based really on who needs it the most for different reasons," said Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "It's not that Fairfax County doesn't need it and that Prince George's County does. I would be very surprised if the FBI and the federal government make a decision on who needs it most. It should be on the merits."

The process took a snarky turn when Gerald Gordon, president of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, was described by the Washington Business Journal as jokingly suggesting that an FBI headquarters in Prince George's County would be conveniently close to where its agents go to pick up criminals.

The county struggles with violent crime and was shamed by a public corruption scandal that brought down former County Executive Jack Johnson — who was recorded by the FBI directing his wife to stow cash bribes in her undergarments — and other county officials. Gordon later apologized for having "mentioned some negative aspects of a neighboring jurisdiction."

"The county is moving on and the sins of the previous administration should not be exacted upon a county of hardworking, honest people," said Aubrey Thagard, a county economic development official, adding, "We'll debate the merits of our location anytime, anywhere, with anybody."

D.C. officials have proposed relocating the bureau to a waterfront development near the Anacostia River.

It's an agency "that needs to be on call," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting representative to Congress.

That point was echoed by one retired FBI agent, who in a letter to The Washington Post made the case for keeping the bureau in Washington by saying, "Even in today's fast-faced electronic world, the need for face-to-face meetings is critical to getting things right."

Aside from any sentimental attachment, any decision on where to site the headquarters needs to account for practical concerns like traffic management and affordable housing options, said Cooper, of the Urban Land Institute.

"Wherever they decide to relocate, it's going to have an impact throughout the region — not just in that one jurisdiction but throughout that region."