Maryland Gains Ground Over Virginia in Race for FBI Headquarters

The FBI is increasingly likely to move its headquarters from Washington to Maryland, despite Virginia lawmakers’ furious fight for the massive complex and Republican efforts to halt construction in retribution for probes into Donald Trump.

(Bloomberg) — The FBI is increasingly likely to move its headquarters from Washington to Maryland, despite Virginia lawmakers’ furious fight for the massive complex and Republican efforts to halt construction in retribution for probes into Donald Trump.

New criteria for the decision revealed to Congress Friday gives greater weight to cost and advancing social equity than proximity to other FBI facilities already in Virginia, according to a congressional aide. That weakens the case for Virginia and benefits Maryland, the aide said.

The $3.5 billion project has become one of the biggest political footballs in President Joe Biden’s Washington, pitting Democrats from neighboring states against each other and threatening to tie up government spending bills.

The new criteria marks a significant victory for Maryland Governor Wes Moore, a rising star in the Democratic party. Moore has said that billions in economic development to historically disadvantaged areas of the state would be lost if Virginia is selected. 

The immediate impact will come in the form of construction jobs during the site’s multiyear building process for the site, which will ultimately house more than 5,000 FBI employees. 

But the headquarters, which would be in commuting distance of Washington, isn’t likely to prompt massive relocations of employees. 

Funding Fight

The government recommendation comes the same week House appropriators approved a spending measure that contains no new funding for the headquarters. 

The bill does not prevent prior year funding from being tapped to start the relocation process, however, nor does it contain prohibit selecting a new site. 

“There is still a lot of concern about the need and the cost,” bill author Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican, said. “Realizing we already have appropriated dollars there and given the fiscal constraints we have, it is necessary for us to pump the brakes on this particular project.”

Womack pointed to GOP criticism that the FBI has unfairly scrutinized conservatives, something FBI Director Christopher Wray strongly denied in a House Judiciary hearing this week. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters Friday he opposes a new headquarters in the Washington region.

“I’d like to see a structure of a much smaller FBI administration building and more FBI agents out across the country,” McCarthy said.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan plans to try to amend the bill to more clearly forbid locating the new headquarters in Virginia or Maryland. He has proposed moving it to Huntsville, Alabama and expanding an existing FBI facility there to accommodate top leaders. 

“We had some staff look at the facility in Huntsville,” Jordan said. “They’ve already got 20 of their 30 divisions there now and they already view it as a second headquarters.”

Maryland lawmaker Steny Hoyer, the top Democrat on the relevant House spending panel, said Jordan’s effort had no chance of succeeding. But Hoyer warned that construction delays caused by the GOP defunding effort risk driving up costs by some $260 million annually.  

Across the Capitol complex, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a rival spending bill that includes $375 million to begin construction on the new headquarters.

Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen leads the relevant subcommittee and it’s unclear whether he would put a hold on the funding if Virginia is ultimately selected. Van Hollen has said the government already has enough money to at least begin site preparation. 

Trump Involvement

The FBI has been trying to move out of the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover building on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue for more than a decade. 

Earlier efforts to move to the suburbs were thwarted by the Trump administration in 2017, which announced costlier plans to rebuild the current headquarters. 

Democrats alleged that Trump, who owned the hotel across the street from the Hoover building, interfered with the relocation plan in order to prevent a rival hotel from going up. 

The Biden administration resumed the search and last year the General Services Administration announced its initial criteria which clearly favored locating the headquarters in Virginia.  

That prompted a furious response by the Maryland delegation, which attempted to override the criteria in the annual funding bill. Hoyer, then the majority leader, demanded the issue be addressed in the text of the funding bill. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brokered a compromise requiring GSA to consult with the Maryland and Virginia delegations before issuing final site criteria. Those consultations occurred in March. 

–With assistance from Billy House and Elizabeth Kim.

(Updates starting in third paragrah)

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