SEABROOK – In the final days of his second term as County Executive, Rushern L. Baker, III thinks of what could have been. Prince George’s County had two of the three finalists spots in the running to become the new headquarters for one of the biggest agencies in the federal government.
Plans changed after President Donald Trump’s administration announced on July 11, 2017 that the project of relocating their headquarters would be scrapped due to funding and claimed it would be cheaper to build over the existing property.
Since then, leaked emails and meetings with the General Services Administration (GSA) show Trump’s involvement in the project was personal and were the reasons why the planned relocation for the FBI Headquarters was nixed.
With one of the relocation spots now up for sale and members of both House of Representatives and the Senate not supportive of the rebuilding proposal, the project is on a standstill.
For Baker, the failure to award the county as the new home of the FBI was not just a loss for those who serve the bureau and the state of Maryland, it was a new low by Trump.
“I did not have a high opinion of him anyway, but I would have never thought that he would base any personal decision based on his businesses and essentially, denied a safe work environment for the men and women that put their lives on the line,” Baker said. “I thought that would never happen, so it went from not having a high opinion of him to going extremely low.”
Calling it his No. 2 project, ranked behind the new University of Maryland Medical Center in Largo, set to open in 2021, Baker said he was heavily invested since the beginning of the FBI Headquarters bid process, visiting Washington, D.C. to talk to GSA officials over relocation plan “over 20 times” in the past four years.
Bidding for the FBI Headquarters cost the county $60 million. The deal would have made either Greenbelt or Landover, two of the three finalists, the new home for the agency.
The county would have seen a similar economic boom as witnessed in Northern Virginia when the Pentagon was constructed to hold the Department of Defense, according to Assistant Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Economic Development David Iannucci.
“It would have been a truly historic, transformative, economical and development win for Prince George’s County,” Iannucci said. “1,100 jobs coming to the county in the form of the FBI Headquarters would rebrand the county for generations.”
The current headquarters in the Hoover Building is in current disrepair, with sections deemed too hazardous to work in. Parts of the agency are currently leasing office space throughout the metropolitan region to operate efficiently due to the building’s limitations, Iannucci said.
However, the stalled plans may no longer include Landover. As Lerner Enterprises, the owners of the property, placed an advertisement in the Washington Business Journal, announcing the sale of the 80-acre property that was formally Landover Mall.
Representatives for Lerner were not contacted for comment.
“I think this was a loss for the state,” Baker said. “It was not just moving the FBI building, it was about building a consolidated office for these men and women, so I think it is a great loss from an economic development standpoint but also from a decency one.”
Iannucci said that he and county officials were not shocked by the decision by the organization to start fielding offers for the site as it would be perfect for a mixed-use development.
With the crime rate dropping in historic numbers and investment projects happening, the county becoming the new home for the FBI would have been an enormous accomplishment for Baker’s administration. Under his time in office, the county has approved several projects, including the MGM National Harbor resort.
House Oversight Committee released emails on Nov. 2 from administration officials, who said keeping the agency in Washington, D.C. would house less employees and cost more than the $3.6 billion proposed to build outside the city. In August, a GSA report confirmed that Trump was more involved in the process and participated in meetings over the bidding process.
Five Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, asking for more documentation and planned not to include more funding if the D.C project resumes.
“We are looking at a stalemate,” Iannucci said. “We are looking at nothing happening for some time to the great frustration for all of use in Prince George’s County…So we are disappointed and frustrated and greatly disturbed for the lack of accountability in this process.”
News on Trump’s involvement in the process is another sign to Democratic lawmakers that the president, who owns a hotel a block away from the Hoover building, is putting personal gain over the best solution for the agency. Original plans were to sell the Hoover building to offset construction costs and selling it to a competitor could hurt Trump’s hotel.
“The president and his administration have employed faulty and misleading reasoning to keep the FBI in its current location and have displayed an alarming lack of transparency and accountability with Congress,” Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown said.
“These new documents solidify my original suspicion that President Trump is politicizing this critical national security project to disrupt the men and women of the FBI – an agency he has long attacked – and protect his bottom line.”
With County Executive-elect Angela Alsobrooks set to take over on Dec. 3, both Baker and Iannucci hope that her administration continues perusing the project.
“My advice to her would be to push hard and weigh on our federal partners to make sure they go forward with their plans to force the president’s hand,” Baker said. “They have to have a new consolidated FBI building, and Prince George’s County should be in position to be competitive for that.”