Nov 15, 2023 - News
Town Talker

How the FBI headquarters search turned into a Beltway cage fight

Nets are deployed to catch crumbling concrete at the FBI HQ in downtown D.C., per this 2015 photo. Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Virginia is fuming after Maryland won the sweepstakes to attract the new FBI headquarters — making claims of backdoor politics in the site selection process and allying with Congressional Republicans for an inquisition.

Why it matters: At stake is the future of the FBI in the face of conservative attacks — alongside billions of dollars in federal investment and thousands of jobs for the locality it relocates to.

Driving the news: Last week, federal officials announced the new HQ would be built in Greenbelt, Md. It appeared to shut the door on a tortured, decade-long saga to replace the crumbling brutalist J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington.

  • Prince George's County leaders hailed it as a marquee investment in an affluent but overlooked Black community.

Yes, but: A Beltway cage match has ensued.

  • Virginia's Democratic lawmakers have allied with Republicans who want an inspector general investigation into how the General Services Administration chose the site. FBI Director Christopher Wray also wants the pick reversed.
  • At issue, they say, is whether a key federal official at the time, Nina Albert, favored Maryland to benefit her former employer, Metro. The 61-acre Greenbelt site is owned by Metro and just outside the rail station, and the FBI HQ would anchor a giant redevelopment with homes and retail.
  • Virginia was vying to welcome the FBI to Springfield.

The other side: "We ran a fair and transparent process," GSA administrator Robin Carnahan said at a House Oversight Committee hearing Tuesday. Greenbelt was the most accessible and least costly site option, Carnahan added.

  • Albert, who left her position at GSA last month to become the District's deputy mayor of economic development, did not return an email seeking comment.
  • Maryland officials have essentially called Virginia sore losers. "We can't please everybody" with the process, Maryland Rep. Kweisi Mfume said yesterday.

Side plot: This local saga — primarily a real estate tug-of-war — is colliding with MAGA anger with the FBI over its investigations of former President Trump.

  • House Oversight Committee chair Rep. James Comer wonders if the "FBI is deserving of a building with that price tag." Rep. Matt Gaetz is upset the federal government is spending any money at all on the bureau.

Flashback: Trump famously put the search for a new HQ in limbo, proposing to ship thousands of FBI jobs to other states.

  • Meanwhile, D.C. just wants the FBI to get on with its relocation — to free up a big site downtown that can be redeveloped.

The intrigue: Would Northern Virginia Democrats join a potential rightwing effort to block Congress funding the Maryland site? "Everything is on the table," Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly told WUSA9.

✍🏼 "House Hunters," the FBI HQ version. Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics and power. Drop me a line about the talk of the town: [email protected].

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