Federal officials said Wednesday that they may not require the FBI's new headquarters to be close to a Metro station or the Capital Beltway despite previous problems the federal government inflicted on local leaders by building or expanding suburban facilities without taking into account the thousands of extra commuters the moves dumped on clogged highways.
At a House subcommittee hearing on the relocation, federal officials said they could attract more bidders for the agency and its 12,000 local jobs if there were no restrictions on the size or location of the site. The desire to remain "intentionally vague" about site requirements, however, sets up the House for a showdown with the Senate, which insists that the FBI be relocated to a site within 2.5 miles of the Beltway and no more than 2 miles from a Metro station.
Virginia lawmakers in 2011 were publicly critical of the Pentagon's decision to move thousands of defense workers to the Mark Center in Alexandria without making road improvements needed to accommodate the extra commuters. But they said Wednesday that the federal government should not place any restrictions on the FBI's relocation.
There are sites in Fairfax and Prince George's counties that meet the Senate requirements, but there are several others in Prince William and Loudoun counties that would be excluded from bidding because they're not near Metro, lawmakers said. Restricting the number of sites that can be considered could ultimately drive up the cost of the move, they said.
"The decision of where to locate this facility should be based solely on what is best for the FBI's ability to fulfill its vital law enforcement and national security missions," said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.
Reps. Steny Hoyer and Donna Edwards, both Maryland Democrats, endorsed Prince George's County as the ideal home for the consolidated headquarters but did not specifically mention a Greenbelt site that the county itself is touting.
Hoyer cited a Maryland study that found 43 percent of FBI headquarters employees live in the state, more than the 33 percent who live in Virginia and the 17 percent that reside in the District. Neither the General Services Administration nor the FBI would confirm those statistics.
GSA Commissioner Dorothy Robyn, joined at the hearing by FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin Perkins, didn't reveal much about the timing of a move but noted that moving out of the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue to the suburbs could cut the agency's $168 million annual rent payment by $44 million.
"This property, we think, should produce significant value toward creating a new FBI headquarters facility," she said.
The lack of a timeline for the move frustrated at least one committee member, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who urged the GSA to evaluate the 35 bids it has already received and begin a formal search within two months.
"We have sites," Mica said. "Make a damn decision about moving forward."