Selection process for new FBI headquarters back on track and Maryland has two sites

Repair crews work on the FBI's aging headquarters building in downtown Washington. The Congress and Biden administration plan to move the headquarters to one of three possible suburban sites, two of which are in Maryland. (Photo: Emily Hahn) Repair crews work on the FBI's aging headquarters building in downtown Washington. The Congress and Biden administration plan to move the headquarters to one of three possible suburban sites, two of which are in Maryland. (Photo: Emily Hahn)

WASHINGTON (April 29, 2022)—The final selection process for a new location for the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is back on track after years of delays.

The FBI headquarters has been located in the J. Edgar Hoover Building in the nation's capital since 1974, but the building is deteriorating. in 2012 named the agency's home the world's "ugliest" building and in 2005 architect Arthur Cotton Moore said the building "creates a void along Pennsylvania Avenue."

Talks between the FBI and the General Services Administration began on a new site for the headquarters during the Bush administration. But more focused efforts got underway during the Obama administration to move the headquarters out of the District of Columbia to what eventually was narrowed down to three potential sites in the suburbs, two in Maryland and one in northern Virginia.

The Biden administration has a Sept. 11 deadline for selecting one of the three proposed sites. The new headquarters would house an estimated 7,500 employees.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, has been one of the leading lawmakers in getting the headquarters relocated to a new suburban location. However, the Trump administration previously had blocked efforts to move the headquarters out of Washington.

"We were extremely disappointed when the Trump administration derailed this process for four years," Van Hollen said in an interview with Capital News Service. "We could have been moving forward to meet the security needs of the FBI... on the plan to consolidate the headquarters in one of these locations."

Van Hollen, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's financial services and general government subcommittee, worked with his Republican counterparts to put language in a recent bipartisan catch-all spending bill passed by Congress to resume the relocation process for the FBI headquarters.

"I think that senators on both sides of the aisle share a view that we need to provide the FBI with a secure home, and one that allows them to consolidate its operations," Van Hollen said.

President Joe Biden's proposed fiscal 2023 budget also includes language providing for a consolidated FBI headquarters in a new location outside the District of Columbia.

"Over the next year," the president's budget states, "GSA and FBI will finalize an updated program of requirements for a secure suburban campus, including the final number of personnel, to inform a 2024 Budget request for the new facility. GSA will also begin initial steps to acquire, if necessary, the site for the new suburban location."

The three potential headquarters sites are in Greenbelt and Landover, Maryland and Springfield, Virginia.

"I think this is the right move for the FBI and the country," Van Hollen said. "I think that either of the places in Prince George's County will put them in a position to consolidate their operations in a secure environment and carry out their duties on behalf of the country."

Van Hollen said the two Maryland locations both have access to public transportation, including Metro. Van Hollen also said the greater economic activity would benefit surrounding areas.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, backs the Springfield location.

"The Springfield, Virginia, site is the best option for a new consolidated FBI headquarters and if evaluated on merit would be the clear favorite for this major procurement," Connolly said in a statement to Capital News Service.

"Northern Virginia is home to the FBI Academy at Marine Corps Base Quantico and the Central Records Complex in Winchester," Connolly said. "Additionally, the region boasts the highest concentration of suburban-located Intelligence Community (IC) agency headquarters in the country. Proximity to FBI assets and longstanding IC partners is a key competitive advantage for the site."

Like the Maryland locations, the Springfield site is near public transportation.

"The Springfield site is also at the transportation nexus of Interstate 495 and Interstate 95, the Washington Metro system (and) the Virginia Railway Express, which is slated to add considerable additional capacity in the coming years, and other transit services," Connolly said.

But not all are on board with the proposed idea of a move, including the FBI's current leadership. The agency wants to keep its headquarters in Washington and even has suggested the idea of having a separate cyber campus.

"The FBI can more effectively serve the American people from a headquarters located downtown," the FBI said in a statement to CNS. "Our mission would be enhanced by a consolidated suburban cyber and technology campus within the national capital region to serve as a command center for cyber operations, consolidate the FBI's existing cyber and technology footprint, and accommodate future growth."

The FBI Agents Association has joined the FBI in voicing its support for keeping the headquarters in Washington.

"We believe what is best for the mission is for FBI headquarters to remain in Washington, D.C., in close proximity to the Department of Justice and our DOJ counterparts," association President Brian O'Hare said in a statement to CNS.

But local lawmakers disagree.

"I don't think that the FBI leadership should be decapitated from the men and women who make up the FBI," Van Hollen said. "That's why the legislation says the headquarters needs to move."

Like Van Hollen, Connolly dismissed the FBI's desire to stay in Washington.

"It's been known for quite some time that Director (Christopher) Wray doesn't want to move," Connolly said. "One director does not get to make this kind of decision, nor does he get to circumvent the law."

Van Hollen said the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters located in suburban Langley, Virginia could be an example of what a suburban campus for a new FBI headquarters would look like. The National Security Agency headquarters in Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, is another good model, he said.

"Those are important models that provide both the opportunity to consolidate operations and also meet the security requirements," the senator said.

Biden's proposed budget does direct the GSA and FBI to find a federally-owned site in the District of Columbia that would be a satellite office for between 750 and 1,000 FBI employees who would be needed for daily contacts with the Justice Department, other parts of the executive branch and Congress.

The next step of the process is a GSA briefing by June 13 on the three sites to relevant congressional committees.

"The U.S. General Services is committed to continuing to support the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to address the FBI's mission needs, to execute in compliance with congressional direction, and to achieve the best value for the American people," according to a GSA statement to CNS.

"In our conversations with the Biden administration, we have urged them to reach a final decision about the actual location," Van Hollen said. "I hope that they will stay on track but what I am confident about is that this process is going to move forward."

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