The General Services Administration quietly made public the process it will use to score the three sites competing for the new FBI headquarters complex last month, and it probably astonished local, state and congressional leaders when they saw it.
Now, with a final decision imminent, local leaders are speaking out and putting pressure on the White House.
For years, access to transit, overall cost and the ability to secure the site were all thought to be the most important factors — and they’re still part of the evaluation. But the site in Springfield, Virginia, has one thing that sites in Landover and Greenbelt, Maryland, don’t — proximity to FBI facilities that already exist in Virginia, including a site in Quantico, where the bureau’s training academy and lab are.
Now, that matters more than anything else, and those involved in the negotiations in Maryland don’t think that was an accident.
“It’s outrageous and disappointing,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told WTOP this week.
“The criteria has always been the same, and at the last moment, just before it’s supposed to be awarded, somehow, someone threw a monkey wrench into it and changed it completely, and made the only important criteria adjacency to Quantico, which was not even on the previous score. Everything else was no longer important. It’s ridiculous.”
Location and proximity to those venues have been key arguments that Virginia leaders, including Rep. Gerry Connolly, have made throughout the process.
“That is Virginia’s obvious strength, as we have said all along,” Connolly said last month in a statement to WTOP.
“Our location best serves the mission of the FBI, which should be the top priority in choosing a site — as GSA and the FBI reaffirmed with their site-selection criteria.”
There’s a belief that it’s more than just a coincidence the scoring system came out that way.
“It feels as if somebody is trying to sandbag the process and either rig it toward Virginia or trying not to move at all,” said Hogan. “It was on the two-yard line and they’ve now kicked them out of the stadium.”
In addition to the governor’s comments, members of Maryland’s congressional delegation have spoken out.
In August, Reps. Anthony Brown and Kweisi Mfume — as well as Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones — all urged the White House to choose one of the locations in Prince George’s County in keeping in line with one of the Biden administration’s executive orders regarding equity.
On his first day in office, the president ordered the federal government to “pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all” and work to “redress inequities in their policies and programs.”
Equity is a factor in the site scoring too, but it doesn’t weigh as much. Leaders in Maryland have been emphasizing equity in their arguments to the White House, and it’s possible those arguments will grow louder and be echoed by national organizations.
Nonetheless, Hogan is still expressing optimism that in the end, one of the sites in Maryland will be chosen.
“I think they’re still both, by far, the best sites and I think it’ll still end up in Maryland,” said Hogan. “This is just a temporary setback, and I’m pushing the federal partners to make sure they get it fixed.”
But when asked how those conversations with the White House were going, Hogan just said, “They’re still working on it.”