By Micaela Hanson and Auzinea Bacon, Capital News Service
After a final pitch meeting Wednesday with the General Services Administration to land the new FBI headquarters in Prince George’s County, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and the state’s congressional delegation said they urged federal officials to equally weigh racial equity in making a final decision.
The GSA said it is willing to reassess the September criteria, Moore said in a press conference after the meeting.
“All we’re asking was a fair and transparent process and one where a thumb is not being put on the scale to unfairly disadvantage a community that has already been historically disadvantaged,” the governor said. “And we know that with a fair process, Maryland will prevail.”
The GSA is believed to be nearing a final decision on locating the new FBI headquarters, ending a search that began 10 years ago. The choice, narrowed from 35 initial candidates, is down to three locations: Greenbelt and Landover in Prince George’s County and Springfield in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Prince George’s County is the only majority-Black jurisdiction in the national capital region. Greenbelt and Landover are the only sites near a historically Black college and university, Bowie State University.
The FBI headquarters search was suspended during the Trump administration. Restarted by the Biden administration, the selection process criteria was revised last September to give more weight – counting as 35% of the decision – to locating the new facility close to the Justice Department (which is in central Washington) and the FBI’s training center in Quantico, Virginia.
The other factors in the relocation are transportation access (25%), development flexibility (15%), racial equity and sustainable citing (15%), and the cost to acquire and prepare the site (10%).
“It showed a clear bias. It was not consistent with congressional intent. It questioned the integrity of the process,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, told reporters, referring to the criteria.
Instead, Cardin said, the governor and a delegation of local and state officials and Democrats in Congress urged the GSA to weigh criteria equally, at 20 percent.
The change would increase the importance of the racial equity criteria, something that the Biden administration has emphasized. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that prioritized advancing racial equity through federal agencies. Last month, Biden reaffirmed the administration’s support for racial equity in another executive order.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said both counties deserve an equal opportunity for federal investment. According to U.S. Census Data, the median income in Fairfax County is $134,000, compared to Prince George’s County with a median income of $90,000.
Locating the site in Maryland would save taxpayers $1 billion, Alsobrooks added.
The Marylanders also disagreed with GSA officials that cost should be given the least weight in a location decision.
“GSA says that it wants to get value for the taxpayer. They say that is one of their very top priorities,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said. “So how is weighing the cost of site preparation and getting everything going only weighted 10 percent?”
Maryland Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller emphasized that the two Prince George’s County sites best meet the transportation accessibility criteria, including distance to commuter airports. The locations also provide access to Maryland universities, granting the FBI a pipeline for recruitment and for training a diverse workforce, she said.
The Greenbelt location is only 140 steps away from a Metro and MARC train station. The Landover site provides access to three Metro stations less than two-and-a-half miles away, Miller said.
The Purple Line, a light-rail system with stops in Maryland, will be operating by 2026 with a stop in Greenbelt.
“Both Maryland sites are ready to go in every sense. Transportation is no exception,” Miller said.
Moore said that the two Maryland sites in Greenbelt and Landover are more prepared for construction and will be built on two to four years sooner than at the Springfield location.
He pointed out that any decision to put the headquarters in Virginia would not be because Maryland lacked anything. He said that the changes made in September gave the Springfield location an advantage.
Despite final meetings between Virginia, Maryland and the GSA, there is still no specific timeline on when the final location will be announced.
“Where the Biden administration decides to put the new FBI headquarters will inform the mission, the growth and also the efficacy of the bureau. Not just for this year, but for years to come,” Moore said.
Maryland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mary Kane issued a statement backing the Prince George’s County sites.
“Maryland is a hub for cybersecurity, serving as the home of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command at Fort George G. Meade, and as a perfect location for the FBI’s Cybersecurity Center,” she said. “Our highly accessible transit and highway system, strong business community, well-equipped higher educational institutions and skilled workforce provide the accessibility, infrastructure, workforce and talent pool needed to support the FBI’s mission and cybersecurity center needs.”