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Over at the Washington Business Journal, Daniel Sernovitz reports that Congress is thinking about dropping the requirement that a new FBI headquarters be within two miles of a Metro station and 2.5 miles of the Beltway. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a resolution in 2011 authorizing a new consolidated FBI headquarters and requiring it to meet these location constraints if practicable. The proposals submitted by various jurisdictions to the General Services Administration before Monday’s deadline were written with these considerations in effect, though since GSA hasn’t released the details of the proposals, it’s hard to say how many actually meet the requirements.

Now, Sernovitz cites a “background memo issued by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management” that “raised concerns about whether the federal government would be limiting competition.” Presumably, he’s talking about this document issued in advance of the FBI hearing that was supposed to take place on Wednesday but was postponed due to the massive snowstorm that rocked the District.

“The Senate EPW resolution requires,” the document reads, “to the extent practicable, the new location be 2 miles from a Metro rail station and 2.5 miles from the Capital Beltway. If GSA were to follow this instruction, it could significantly limit competition of sites in all three potential jurisdictions (Virginia, D.C., and Maryland).”

Well, not so much D.C.: Unless you exclude locations for being too far within the Beltway—-in which case the current J. Edgar Hoover Building, about 8 miles from the closest point on the Beltway, is way out contention—-there aren’t all that many plausible locations in the District that wouldn’t meet the requirements. Poplar Point, the Gray administration’s official proposed location, is just around the corner from the Anacostia Metro.

But that aside: While I’m hoping the FBI departs the District and, theoretically, should therefore support changes that would increase the competition to Poplar Point, dropping the Senate requirements would be a bad move. Let’s count the ways:

  1. Increased traffic: This almost goes without saying, but if people can’t get to work by Metro, they’re going to drive more. Bad for other drivers, bad for the environment.
  2. Bad design: Is it possible that a location far from the Metro would include a walkable, mixed-use development with valuable neighborhood amenities? I suppose so, but the odds are pretty much nil. The ideal location, according to smart growth advocates, would be near a Metro station that won’t otherwise be able to attract development—-somewhere like Greenbelt, where various environmental restrictions make development a challenge. Here, the FBI development would likely include some community amenities, and could benefit nearby restaurants, shops, dry cleaners, etc.
  3. A disincentive to live in the District: Imagine you’re an FBI security guard working at the Hoover Building and living in Shaw. Sure, you’re kind of bummed that you’ll no longer be able to walk to work in 25 minutes or bike in seven. But with a Greenbelt location, you can still hop on the Green Line and be at work within half an hour. How about if the FBI moves to Loudoun County? Now there’s suddenly a strong incentive to move closer to work, and to take your income tax dollars with you. Granted, there probably aren’t all many FBI workers living in the District to begin with—-a GSA spokesman couldn’t provide an exact figure or estimate—-but you could imagine that a move far off the Metro grid could lead some District-dwelling FBI employees to move elsewhere.
  4. Worse intragovernmental coordination: Sometimes the FBI and the Justice Department need to communicate. Right now, they’re neighbors on Pennsylvania Avenue—-couldn’t be easier. If the FBI moved to Greenbelt, sure, they’d probably have more virtual meetings, but for an FBI worker to take the Green Line to Archives once or twice a week for a meeting wouldn’t be a big sweat. But if the FBI’s in Loudoun? Suddenly it gets harder—-and more car-dependent, which adds to problem No. 1.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery