Va. lawmakers make their pitch for FBI headquarters, say Md. claims are ‘out of left field’

The process of selecting a new headquarters for the FBI seems to be nearing its end, more than a decade after it first began.

A day after leaders from Maryland gathered at GSA headquarters to meet with federal officials, lawmakers from Virginia gathered to make their pitch.

After the meeting, Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner addressed the media, and offered a defense of the current scoring system, which puts a greater weight on proximity to other federal agencies than Maryland had expected when it was announced last fall.

“The most important is compatibility with the mission of the FBI,” said Kaine. “This is the nation’s security that we’re talking about. That has to be the primary component.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (at lectern) is flanked by Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and two other officials on March 9, 2023. (WTOP/John Domen)

Kaine added it just makes sense to put “the FBI in close proximity to so many sister agencies who have to work together, not in silos.”

“It’s a relevant criteria,” Warner said.

The lawmakers also said Maryland’s contention that building a new FBI headquarters in Virginia would add a billion dollars to the price tag was, in the words of Warner, “out of left field and have no basis in fact.”

The two senators also continued to hammer hard on the issue of equity, which Maryland says should give its two potential sites in Prince George’s County a clear advantage.

“The Springfield area is one of the most diverse parts of this commonwealth, of this country,” said Kaine. “Fifty-five percent of households in the area, the language spoken in the home is not English. It’s a United Nations. But more than the United Nations, its truly a collection of who Virginia is and who America is.”

Leaders from Maryland have argued Virginia is trying to equate diversity with equity. Pressed on that difference, and how disadvantaged the second wealthiest county in America could be, Warner said “equity in America today, and equity in terms of the needs of the FBI, reflect racial equity, reflect faith-based equity, reflect ethnic equity.”

“Springfield, African American, Latino, Asian-Pacific,” he added, “to ignore the broad breadth of equity in America would be a huge disappointment.

As for the amount of wealth in Fairfax County, Warner suggested that’s the result of decisions made 15 to 20 years ago prioritizing investment in education.

“Fairfax County put their priorities in investing in one of the nation’s best public education systems,” he said. “People have voted with their feet. The number of immigrants that have come because they wanted that public education system — don’t penalize the investments that were made that maybe other jurisdictions didn’t choose to.”

Will scoring system change again?

But perhaps the biggest difference between the two sites is whether or not the criteria being used to decide a site will be adjusted again. Maryland adamantly declared yesterday that they were assured it would. Virginia has a different understanding.

“The FBI and GSA have set out criteria that are good criteria and they should follow those criteria,” said Kaine.

Warner said when the budget bills were being formulated in December, Maryland lawmakers tried to force a change in the criteria, but were unsuccessful.

“There was a compromise. That compromise was you get another consultation,” said Warner. “But the law is quite clear. There’s going to be, if they follow the law, no re-weighting of criteria.”

When asked about that discrepancy, a spokeswoman for Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen said in a statement that “GSA committed to taking a second look at the criteria based on the Maryland lawmakers’ presentation yesterday. As was made clear by the language Sen. Van Hollen, Sen. Cardin, and Rep. Hoyer included in the omnibus, this is entirely permissible.”

Unprompted, the spokeswoman also disputed claims from Virginia that the costs are actually similar, and that the billion-dollar difference sited by Maryland was simply associated with the expense of moving another federal facility that’s going to be moving anyway.

“The Maryland lawmakers did not ask the GSA to reassess the direct costs of relocating the classified tenant (though they believe those costs should be included, as they will be paid by the taxpayer dollars), but presented to GSA additional costs that would be incurred by the Springfield site — totaling at over $1 billion.”

In a statement provided to WTOP, A GSA spokeswoman thanked leaders from both Virginia and Maryland.

“GSA and FBI are committed to fully considering the feedback we receive as we work to ensure a fair and transparent process that results in a site that will best serve the FBI and the American people for generations to come,” the statement said. “Following this week’s consultations, GSA and FBI will deliberately consider the input we received to determine next steps on the site selection process.”

Basketball negotiations?

But maybe all of this haggling and meeting is unnecessary?

Earlier today, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore tweeted a video of him shooting baskets at Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a former college basketball player. Moore said the two should play one-on-one, with the winner getting the headquarter.

Youngkin tweeted back a video of him hitting a long jumper and said “game on!”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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