Ever since the federal government announced plans to relocate the Federal Bureau of Investigation's headquarters from the Soviet-style poured concrete architectural monstrosity it currently occupies on Pennsylvania Avenue, local officials in Maryland and Virginia have been working overtime to entice the General Services Administration to pick their jurisdictions for the FBI's new address.
Last week, U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Donna Edwards upped the ante with a full-court press for Prince George's County, a jurisdiction still smarting over its failed attempt to lure the 3,000 employee Department of Health and Human Services from neighboring Montgomery County. But GSA should not let such political pressure sway its decision.
Prince George's has 15 Metro stations, but it has failed to attract the level of private development that other jurisdictions have. Claims that this is due to racial discrimination against the nation's wealthiest African-American majority county would be more credible if not for the fact that the county government has been "notoriously corrupt," as exemplified by last year's convictions of former County Executive Jack Johnson and his County Council member wife for taking up to $1 million in bribes.
The dearth of development around Prince George's Metro stations is an embarrassing refutation of one of "smart growth's" most cherished and repeated assumptions: that mass transit inevitably spurs economic development. Prince George's is Exhibit A that this does not automatically happen, which is why the county is so desperate to get a government agency to build where private interests will not.
Since land is generally cheaper in Prince George's, the county might have been the best option for the $1.2 billion FBI project. However, the GSA already owns land near the Franconia-Springfield Metro station in Fairfax County that is also closer to the FBI's training facilities and forensic labs in Quantico.
The Franconia-Springfield station, the ninth busiest in the Metro system, is another example of mass transit failing to live up to its economic development promises. Despite access to Metro, Springfield Mall and nearby commercial areas have been in decline ever since the station opened in 1997 -- while shoppers flocked to the non-Metro accessible Tysons Corner. Time to put this chestnut to rest.
GSA should ignore the lobbying and do what's best for both the FBI and taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill.