By CartenCordell │ Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA — Christmas is two weeks away, and officials in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia already are getting visions of sweet treats dancing in their heads.
The FBI is looking for a new home, and the General Services Administration, which manages federal property, is ready to go shopping. The agency released a request-for-information — think official wish-list —last week seeing proposals for the new site.
But wait, there’s more.
The GSA is thinking it might be a good idea to trade the headquarters at 935 Pennsylvania Ave., and the land on which it sits, for a new location.
That set off a scrum of lobbying between Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to win the bureau’s new home.
While no official proposal is on the books yet, speculation as run rampant for potential sites, from the soon-to-be vacated Exxon-Mobil headquarters in Fairfax to Springfield and the Redskins’ RFK Stadium in Prince George’s County.
But while the players jockey for position ahead of a March 4 deadline to submit proposals, the actual spoils awaiting the victor are slim and far from immediate.
For starters, the GSA outlined that the building itself must be 2.1 million square feet, not including the land on which the new campus sits. And, there’s been talk of finding a location near a metro station to lessen congestion on the roadways.
But apart from the one-time bounty of tax revenue and jobs reaped from the construction of the new building, the payoff of hosting the FBI headquarters may be shrouded.
“It’s sort of unclear because the headquarters is in the Washington-metro area already,” said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University in Fairfax. “At that level, it doesn’t have the impact of bringing in a new company that has 10,000 employees.
“Moving it from its headquarters in downtown (D.C.) to Fairfax or Prince George’s County in Maryland isn’t a big enough move to result in significant relocation of workers.”
Because the FBI is not looking to move outside the Beltway, it’s unlikely that its employees will uproot from their homes to move closer to the new headquarters. Also, because of the high level of security that will be required at the building, business and residential development outside the new campus would be minimal, Fuller said.
And don’t expect a lot of federal contractors to move with the G-Men.
“The FBI does not have a whole lot of federal contractors,” he said, “so it doesn’t take a big business space with it like the EPA, Homeland Security or DOD. Most of their contractors don’t need to be here.”
So what does the new host of the FBI have to gain? Possibly a future workforce that will locate closer to work once current FBI employees retire, maybe a public relations boon of having the nation’s top law enforcement agency within a state’s borders and certainly the headlines of creating thousands of construction jobs, even if only temporary.
“The big benefit is building the building,” Fuller said. “The construction activity would be very important in the short term.”
Down the road, as population grows in the metro area, the new FBI building could help shift residential patterns closer to its campus, but the state that wins the building would more likely reap tax revenue if a private contractor owns the headquarters and the bureau leases it.
“I think that’s how it will go,” Fuller said. “It’s too big for the federal government to pay for, they’re broke. They will pay for it over time by leasing it back from a private developer.”
This will make the land being swapped all the more important, because while the new campus won’t shift population, it will shift infrastructure to meet the commuters coming to work.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said that with a campus as large as is being proposed for the FBI, transit accessibility and proximity to the District is paramount.
“If it is staying within the region, it should and must be at a metro station,” he said. “The region cannot handle any more traffic on its roadways. A metro station location, or even combining metro and commuter rail, will allow for significant reduction of potential traffic from the new site.”
Officials from Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince George’s counties all have expressed interest in being the new hometown of the FBI. And they have until March 4 to submit proposals.
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— Edited by Kelly Carson, firstname.lastname@example.org