The FBI's new home

Virginia's Fairfax County is ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as the nation's second wealthiest county, bested only by neighboring Loudon. More than one-fifth of its wage earners bring home $200,000 or more each year, the median home price is around $500,000, and the unemployment rate is a minuscule 3.2 percent as of August.

On the opposite side of the Capital Beltway, Prince George's County's numbers are not quite so glowing. Typical household income is around $73,000, more than 10 percent of residents live below the poverty line and the median home value is about half of that in Fairfax. It also is home to a far greater number of minorities — about 65 percent of Prince George's countians are African American compared to less than 10 percent in Fairfax.


This tale of two counties, one "have" and one "have-less," ought to be front and center in any conversation of where to locate the next headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, particularly given the recent announcement by the General Services Administration that the choice of new locations won't be made until March. That puts the $2.5 billion decision squarely in the hands of the next administration, which will be headed either by a Democrat who has stressed the need to bridge the nation's income inequality divide or by a Republican who has promised to do more for black voters than the Democrats have.

That's not to suggest that the choice of where to relocate the FBI ought to be regarded as an act of charity or even a political favor. Purely on the merits, Maryland already has the upper hand in the FBI headquarters decision. The two Maryland sites under consideration — in Greenbelt and Landover — would be less expensive to develop and more convenient to public transportation. Greenbelt, where there are MARC, Amtrak and Metrorail connections, is particularly attractive for any transit-oriented development. The competing location in Virginia, a government-owned building in Springfield, would require relocating existing federal tenants at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and further delay the project.


Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and others who have been laboring for years to attract the FBI headquarters are no doubt disappointed by the GSA's delay. There are two chief worries — that the necessary funding won't be approved by the House (it's already passed the Senate) and that the projected outcome of the election, Hillary Clinton in the White House, will prove advantageous for Virginia because Virginia's Sen. Tim Kaine will be vice president and the Clintons are close to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe who chaired Ms. Clinton's 2008 campaign. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has, by all accounts, been front and center in the efforts to get the FBI headquarters, but as a Republican, he's not exactly in the Clinton inner circle. (Nor, for that matter, would he likely hold much sway with a Trump administration, given his laudable refusal to endorse his party's flagrantly unqualified nominee.)

Getting the funding through Congress shouldn't prove insurmountable given the significant national security implications. The current FBI headquarters in downtown D.C. is not only considered vulnerable to a car bomb or similar terrorist attack, it can't even house many of its employees who are now scattered among 30 or so leased satellite locations. Meanwhile, the appearance of favoring politically-connected and affluent insiders — the knock against seemingly every candidate running for office this year — is what a President Hillary Clinton ought to be avoiding, particularly in her first few months in office.

Indeed, if inequality and people being left behind economically is the centerpiece issue of the current political campaign, moving the FBI to Prince George's County, home to 75,000 federal employees but only 25,000 federal jobs, makes a welcome statement that a majority-minority and less affluent county won't be further disadvantaged by the incoming administration. The county may not be the preferred home to FBI agents or senior leadership, but it is where their less well-paid administrative staffers tend to live, according to a recent survey. That should tell the next president all he or she needs to know about righting past wrongs.

Politically, Maryland may be at a significant disadvantage in attracting the new FBI headquarters, but on the cold, hard facts, and most particularly on the social justice implications, the Old Line State ought to be in a position to paint a new motto on its welcome signs — "Home of the FBI" — within the next few years.