FBI response bolsters Virginia argument for new HQ, rankling Maryland leaders
The Washington Post June 9, 2023
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in a letter this month underscored the value of locating its planned suburban headquarters close to existing Virginia facilities as a decision nears in an at-times acrimonious, decade-long fight between the Commonwealth and Maryland to lure the agency.
“Distances matter when surging to a command post,” the bureau stated in response to questions that Maryland leaders lodged with the federal government in March. “From a time-savings and environmental perspective, it is meaningfully important to limit the need for the FBI workforce to spend several hours in a car commuting back and forth between locations.”
The document, obtained by The Washington Post and first reported by WUSA9, illuminates the agency’s justification for a heavily weighted criteria that Maryland’s congressional delegation has sought to challenge since the calculus of the federal agency that will select the site made public its grading rubric last year.
When the U.S. General Services Administration graded proximity to Quantico, Va., as its top priority, Maryland leaders challenged the agency to consider President Biden’s own promises to use federal resources to promote equity, which ranked fourth of five factors in the FBI HQ analysis.
The apparent proof that the FBI prefers Virginia - long suspected by those close to the process - prompted Maryland leaders to attack Virginia Republicans who have been critical of the FBI and Department of Justice inquiries into former president Donald Trump.
In response to Maryland leaders’ skepticism that proximity should be the most important consideration, the FBI provided an analysis of more than 1,700 badge swipes at the Quantico gate over nearly two months ending last September. The agency also offered context about what brings people to the facility, and detailed how people based there work across its other sites - including the J. Edgar Hoover building in downtown D.C., which a new suburban headquarters that would house at least 7,500 employees will replace.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) told reporters in Baltimore on Thursday morning that “of the two jurisdictions, only one - Maryland - actually has a chief executive who has gone on the record and says he believes in the mission of the FBI.”
Moore reiterated his position that the Maryland sites have the best transportation assets, cost, and racial equity opportunities, and can most quickly deliver the $2 billion project. But he also questioned whether Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) - who in the past declined to denounce Republican efforts to strip funding for the FBI headquarters - supports the institution.
“I just don’t see how this is even a close contest,” Moore said, according to a recording of the remarks obtained by The Washington Post. “The FBI building should be in the state of Maryland, and I think that Virginia is not only going to have to fight on the merits, but I think their chief executive doesn’t even believe in the funding of the FBI.”
A spokeswoman for Youngkin seemed to shrug off Moore’s comments, insisting that the benefits of locating in Virginia speak for themselves.
“Virginia is well-positioned to support the FBI headquarters with a diverse workforce, extensive transportation network and close proximity to public and private sector partners,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said. “Virginia’s competitive advantage is clear, and partisan attacks won’t change that.”
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who has served as something of a field commander for the Maryland delegation, said in a statement that Maryland leaders had seen the agency’s numbers before.
“This response remains inadequate as it simply repackages the same numbers without directly answering our Delegation’s questions about them,” he said, adding that locating the headquarters in Maryland would achieve the Biden-Harris equity objectives and cost less.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said the FBI’s emphasis on what would be convenient for some of its workers “misses the point” about what’s best for federal taxpayers and whether its fair to consolidate resources in a community already overflowing with them.
“The FBI continues to rehash the same data about a small percentage of its HQ workforce, apparently believing this snapshot overcomes the strength of Maryland’s case for the new, consolidated FBI headquarters,” Cardin said in a statement. “Once again, the FBI misses the point of what equity means for the communities that have been victim to systemic bias. This is a decision that transcends the FBI’s myopic interests, which is why the General Service Administration (GSA) has been tasked with the site selection.”
FBI leaders have expressed a desire to keep the agency’s headquarters in the nation’s capital, where they have quick access to the Department of Justice and stand as a public-facing symbol of law and order. But lawmakers eager to deliver for their constituents are determined to steer the nation’s premier crime-fighting institution to one of their states.
The tension between Maryland and Virginia has fostered a united front among the Maryland delegation, which asserts that relocating to prospective sites in Landover or Greenbelt, Md., in Prince George’s County, would yield generational economic impacts. Virginia leaders’ arguments for the Springfield site have underscored the accessibility of major highways, the FBI’s ownership of land in the area and the proximity to the FBI Academy at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) said in a statement that Prince George’s County excels in several criteria, such as cost, access to transit and equity.
“Our sites are the best options in terms of cost for the American taxpayer, because they are ready to go now, while the Springfield site will cost hundreds of millions of dollars more,” she said. “Locating the FBI in Prince George’s is also a meaningful way for the Biden administration to advance equity in federal government decisions, consistent with the administration’s executive orders on equity.”
Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) - who is competing with Alsobrooks to succeed Sen. Ben Cardin, (D-Md.), directly attacked Virginia Republicans over their past denunciations of the FBI, which range from defending Trump from federal inquiry to Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) questioning the political motivations of agents.
“Time after time, Gov. Youngkin and Republican members of Virginia’s federal delegation have called for defunding the FBI, questioned its motives, and scorned its mission,” Trone said in a statement released Thursday afternoon in tandem with a more muted response from Moore.
“We must ask ourselves: Why should the FBI headquarters be moved to a state where it’s unwanted and under threat by the state’s governor and Members of Congress? It’s outrageous and embarrassing,” Trone said. “In Maryland, we will always welcome the FBI and the hard-working Americans defending our country.”
In the document, the FBI said its employees make trips to Quantico to work cases, respond to threats and to prep employees and partners to serve in a variety of different roles. Much of FBI’s training happens at the FBI Academy or on the wider Quantico campus, according to the document.
“These diverse classes and exercises, hosted by various divisions, are attended by students through all stages of their careers and are frequently led by the headquarters personnel best suited to instruct on the subjects,” the document states. “While these trainings range in duration from a few hours to a few weeks, instructors may only be required for a specific block of instruction. We must ensure that participation in these critical trainings and exercises continues unimpeded by distance if the FBI is to properly train and develop its people.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called the memo “a very important document.”
He said it was particularly significant because “it was prepared by the FBI knowing that it was going to go into the hands of folks in Maryland that didn’t necessarily agree with it, which makes me very impressed that they were [so] blunt and candid about it,” he said, calling the conclusions “common sense.”
The Biden administration’s criteria for locating the new headquarters put great weight on “mission compatibility,” Kaine said, and that puts a priority on having access to other FBI facilities.
“The Marylanders have tried to rewrite the administration’s criteria for selecting the site,” he said, adding that he and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) have been “in constant touch” with the White House, urging the administration not to change the criteria for site selection.
“Any change in the criteria would look like it was a political move,” he said.
A decision on where the headquarters will be located is expected this year.