Government and Politics
December 1, 2022
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) highlighted civil rights leaders’ support for relocating the FBI headquarters to one of the two potential sites in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on the grounds that these sites are in the best position to advance President Biden’s stated equity goals, which he announced via Executive Order during his first week in office. During a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee related to racism and discrimination, Senator Van Hollen discussed with National Urban League President & CEO Marc Morial – who recently led a group of civil rights organizations in sending a letter to the Biden Administration advocating for Maryland’s sites – how the FBI headquarters relocation will impact income inequality in the region.
Excerpts of the Senator’s exchange are below. Video of Senator Van Hollen’s questioning can be viewed here.
SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.): I’m going to start with you, Mr. Morial. Because we are talking about a different kind of discrimination. We’re talking about discrimination that has an impact on economic opportunity, and on the racial income and wealth gap in the Washington, D.C. area. And that has to do with the siting of federal agencies. And if you look at the history of siting of federal agencies in the Washington, D.C. area, there is no doubt – no doubt – that the majority-Black Prince George’s County has gotten the short end of the stick. While Prince George’s County has 20 percent of the region’s [federal] workforce, it hosts less than five percent of the region’s office space. You have written a letter – you and other civil rights leaders – have written a letter to the President and to the head of GSA on exactly this issue. Can you talk about your concerns and how this does play into the discussion about income and wealth equality?
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT & CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: When President Biden signed his Executive Order on racial equity, one element of its implementation was its impact on decision-making in the siting of federal facilities – not only in the D.M.V., but all across the nation. Where courthouses, where federal buildings are located, to ensure that communities of color, urban communities, communities where Black and Brown people live would get their fair share of those investments. So in this instance, the leadership of Prince George’s County and many leaders in Maryland, including yourself, reached out to many of us to suggest that Prince George’s County had not been treated fairly in this decision-making historically. And that while I said earlier before you came into the room that my first choice was Washington, D.C; my second choice was New Orleans; my third choice was Newark; that it was okay if my fourth choice was Maryland, and Prince George’s County.
Because Prince George’s County for the D.M.V. represents something interesting. When I attended law school here at Georgetown in the 1980s, Prince George’s County was a predominantly white, suburban, and rural community. It has since become the largest predominantly Black county anywhere in the United States, and notwithstanding the fact that there are many rising middle-class families in Prince George’s County, there is still a high level of poverty – a high level of many, many challenges and issues that affect communities of color. So it seemed to make sense that in this instance, since the FBI insisted that it could no longer operate effectively solely in downtown Washington D.C., that Prince George’s County made a good-sense place to ensure that a Black community – a Black jurisdiction – would have the opportunity to host and be the home of a facility that will employ literally thousands of people. But then the second and third impact of it – in terms of services, and retail, and hotels – is almost immeasurable over a period or an arc of probably 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years. So it was, Senator Warner, no slight to Virginia at all, it was this sort of analysis.
But I also think that – I want to give some due credit, because we’re in a public hearing – to the fact that the community leadership and the local elected officials in Maryland got very active in reaching out and encouraging us to think about this and to support this instance. This is not something we would normally involve ourselves in, but because of the President’s commitment to racial equity – supported by all of you, I think, here in this room – we think it’s important that the Administration be held accountable to live up to that when these decisions take place. So that’s the background here. And again, no slight to the great state of Virginia, but sometimes when you face these sorts of things, in order to correct the imbalance, you’ve got to do things differently. And I think here, that’s why Maryland seemed to make a good choice.
But again, Senator Warner asked us to listen to what the people of Virginia, or the community leaders of Virginia have to say. And while I’ve already written a letter, I am certainly willing to do that along with my staff and I think the other civil rights leaders because it’s a fair thing to do and maybe there are some perspectives on northern Virginia that we’re not aware of. But we’re sticking with Maryland for now, since New Orleans and Washington and Newark aren’t going to work.
SENATOR VAN HOLLEN: If I could Mr. Morial, thank you. I would just say to my colleague from Virginia, if he thinks that Virginia has some equities in this issue when it comes to the diversity of the community and the fact that Fairfax County has been overlooked – which it clearly has not – then he will agree with me, that when the FBI and GSA grade the issue of equity, that they will raise it from the low 15 percent that it is [currently] to a higher amount that would reflect the President and the Biden Administration’s commitment to equity. And the President said, and I quote when he issued that Executive Order, “We need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government; it has to be the business of the whole government.” And I would submit that the GSA and the FBI clearly haven’t gotten the message, given the low weight they’ve given to this factor. And again, if my friend, Senator Warner, wants to join me in urging the Administration to raise the weight of that factor, we welcome that.
Senator Van Hollen and the members of the Maryland delegation have worked for years to secure a new FBI Headquarters that meets the security needs and mission of the Bureau. Within the fiscal year 2022 government funding bill enacted earlier this year, Senator Van Hollen, as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, worked to include language directing the Biden Administration to select a site for a new consolidated, FBI headquarters from among the three sites previously selected by the General Services Administration (GSA) and the FBI during the Obama Administration. Those sites are Greenbelt and Landover in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Springfield in Fairfax County, Virginia. In September, GSA publicly issued a site selection plan to be based on five criteria, the highest and most heavily weighted of which includes proximity to the FBI training academy in Quantico, Virginia (weighted at 35 percent) – a factor that previously had never been raised throughout the selection process. Following that on the criteria list is transportation access (weighted at 25 percent), site development flexibility (weighted at 15 percent), promoting sustainable siting and advancing equity (weighted at 15 percent), and cost to prepare and acquire (weighted at 15 percent).
Senator Van Hollen, his Maryland delegation colleagues, and civil rights groups have argued that equity should be more thoroughly considered as part of the selection process, especially given that President Biden unveiled a government-wide equity agenda as one of his first actions in the White House. Senator Van Hollen, along with lawmakers at all levels of government representing Prince George’s County, made this case in a press conference in Greenbelt, Maryland, last month.
Text of the civil rights groups’ November 18 letter to the Biden Administration outlining the equity considerations in the FBI headquarters relocation process here.