WASHINGTON — Virginia leaders are pushing for a new FBI headquarters to be built in Virginia. Maryland leaders say their state is the “superior” choice.
And conservative Republicans want to nix the new headquarters project completely.
As the House GOP majority wages war on the FBI and Justice Department for “weaponizing” the government against former President Donald Trump, they’re wading into an already contentious fight, more than a decade in the making, over construction of the bureau’s new multibillion-dollar headquarters.
While some far-right lawmakers are threatening to defund the whole project, others in the GOP want to move it into the heartland, part of a larger Republican desire to see federal government offices and jobs shifted out of what they view as the Washington swamp.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., floated Fargo, North Dakota; Omaha, Nebraska; or Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as potential sites for the new headquarters. Meanwhile, House GOP Policy Chairman Gary Palmer, R-Ala., likes an idea proposed by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio: The HQ could be moved to the FBI’s expanding Redstone Arsenal Campus in Huntsville, Ala.
“We already have a huge facility in Huntsville, Alabama, that the FBI just built,” Palmer said in an interview. “That could accommodate them and that facility can accommodate expansion, so we don’t need another $4 to 5 billion expense for another building.”
Plans for the FBI headquarters, which is estimated to cost up to $4 billion when it’s completed, have become the latest flashpoint in a partisan funding fight that appears to be barreling toward a government shutdown at the end of September.
“I’m not voting for funding for that. I’m not voting for any weaponization of government. And that’s what the FBI is right now — they’re completely rogue,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a top Trump ally, told NBC News.
“The FBI has been targeting President Trump, his administration, people on his staff, and they continue to stay more focused on people that walked into the Capitol on Jan. 6 rather than local crime, and local crime is out of control," she continued. "And so, no, I refuse to fund anything like that brand-new facility.”
Greene, Jordan and other top conservatives on Capitol Hill have called more broadly to defund investigations into Trump and his allies, which they argue are politically motivated attacks on President Joe Biden’s likely 2024 opponent.
Last week, special counsel Jack Smith expanded to 40 the number of criminal charges filed against Trump in the classified documents case, and he appears poised to bring more charges against the former president over his efforts to overturn his 2020 presidential election defeat.
It’s “one more ridiculous thing from the Justice Department. This is as wrong as it gets,” Jordan said of the expected Jan. 6-related charges.
Also the chairman of the subcommittee investigating the weaponization of government against conservatives, Jordan has personally urged top appropriators to block funding for the new headquarters in the upcoming funding bills.
The bureau, however, has argued that its current headquarters, the nearly half-century-old J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, is too cramped for the agency to carry out its mission and that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make repairs and renovations to the crumbling structure.
In a statement, the FBI said there are "numerous operational reasons" for keeping its headquarters in the Washington region, including proximity to other "critical" FBI facilities and intelligence community partners nearby. The bureau said its Redstone Arsenal in Alabama "cannot accommodate the minimum of 8,500 personnel planned to occupy the new HQ suburban and downtown facilities."
Democrats argue that the attacks on the new headquarters project are an attempt to retaliate against the FBI and its director, Christopher Wray, who, they note, happens to be a Republican appointed by Trump.
“This is part and parcel of an all-out assault on the FBI,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a senior appropriator who helped secure $375 million for the headquarters in last year’s omnibus package. “And just because they have differences with the director of the FBI, they should not be taking this out on the men and women who work for the FBI.”
An independent panel from the General Services Administration (GSA) is said to be months away from deciding where to locate the new headquarters. The three finalists — selected nearly a decade ago — are Springfield, Virginia; and two sites in Maryland’s Prince George’s County: Greenbelt and Landover.
Democrats from Virginia and Maryland work together on a range of regional issues, from transportation to government funding for their thousands of federal workers. But they’ve clashed over the site of the FBI headquarters, which will bring along with it thousands of jobs and a huge economic jolt.
Two weeks ago, the Maryland sites got a big boost when the GSA revised and simplified its scoring method for selecting a new headquarters, following complaints from Maryland leaders. The updated criteria placed a greater emphasis on the cost to taxpayers and the Biden administration’s commitment to sustainability and equity for underserved communities.
Prince George’s County is a majority-Black county and has more affordable housing than Virginia’s Fairfax County.
“I think we’re in the best position,” said Maryland’s retiring senior senator, Democrat Ben Cardin, who's been pushing for a new headquarters in his state for the past 12 years. “We look at the standards that are being used, we check every box. I think we’re in great shape.”
Van Hollen argued that the pair of Maryland sites, east of Washington, are “superior” based on two criteria. He said the Maryland sites could be built more quickly and for $1 billion less than the Virginia site because the lands are unencumbered, something Virginia officials disagree with. The senator also said the Maryland sites are “the only ones that meet President Biden’s whole-of-government commitment to equity.”
“All three sites meet the FBI’s mission requirements,” Van Hollen said, “but the Maryland sites are clearly superior in those other areas.”
But the Virginians are just confident of victory. The state’s two Democratic senators, Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — along with GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin and other members of the state’s delegation — have touted the Springfield site for its proximity to the bureau’s academy in Quantico, Virginia, as well as other national security agencies like the Pentagon and CIA.
They also argue that it’s the only site that’s already owned by the federal government and that northern Virginia is a majority-minority community. One in 4 residents in that region were born in a foreign country, members of the Virginia delegation said, including Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea and Ethiopia.
“While I’m disappointed that the criteria was changed because it will further delay this decade-long process, I’m confident Virginia is still the best home for the new FBI headquarters,” Kaine said in a statement. “Any way you slice it, this site is a home run for the men and women of the FBI, the American people, and the Springfield community.”
Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, the former lieutenant governor of Virginia, said there are “enormous pockets of poverty” along northern Virginia’s Route 1 corridor, especially around Bailey’s Crossroads, which should be considered when tallying Springfield’s equity score. But Beyer also said many of the high-performing public schools in the area will appeal to the FBI’s workforce.
“One of the things I think is really important, not to trash the Maryland schools at all, but just to be proud of how good the schools are in northern Virginia,” Beyer said in an interview.
“Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church — these are all nationally renowned public schools systems. So if you’re an FBI family, that’s going to be a factor.”