FBI headquarters in Greenbelt benefits all Marylanders

What if a major institution was interested in relocating its headquarters to Maryland, bringing with it 11,000 good-paying jobs and the need for thousands of additional subcontractors? Would we do everything we could to seal the deal?

That's exactly the situation playing out right now, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeks a new home to replace an outmoded behemoth that consumes a valuable block of downtown D.C. real estate. The clear best choice is in Greenbelt in Prince George's County, and everyone who lives in Maryland should be in favor of that move.

The decision carries important consequences, and not just for D.C. and its immediate suburbs. A Greenbelt location would also bring benefits for the Baltimore metropolitan region — and for all of Maryland.

The future vitality of the Baltimore region rests on connecting people with good jobs in the smartest and most efficient ways. It means identifying and promoting job centers, making sure the transportation networks are in place so that workers can get to those jobs, and providing training needed to prepare for good careers.

A Greenbelt FBI location helps fulfill those objectives.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has offered the use of 78 acres at the Greenbelt Metro Station as an FBI campus. The site is at the northeastern end of Metro's Green Line, and it is also the most convenient station for Howard County (19 miles along I-95 from Columbia) and much of the region (30 miles from downtown Baltimore, for example).

In Greenbelt, the 11,000 FBI jobs would be easily accessible by car, bus or rail (Greenbelt is also a stop on the MARC Camden Line) to residents of Reisterstown, Essex, Catonsville or Glen Burnie.

Agents, administrators and other staff would gain a new range of housing options north of D.C., along with the enriching education for their children that comes with living in the state with the nation's top-ranked public schools.

Greenbelt is also just one Metro stop away from the University of Maryland College Park, where its top-ranked criminology program is already one of the most popular majors. It is easy to envision stronger connections, through research, internships and grant funding, between two important institutions.

Maryland has another important job center not far away: the National Security Agency on the campus of Fort Meade, just over the Howard line in Anne Arundel County. It makes sense to bring the FBI and the NSA closer together geographically as our nation prepares to combat the cyber threats of the future.

Much of the debate over where the FBI should build a new campus centers on equity, and those arguments should not be overlooked. Twenty-five percent of the D.C. region's federal workers reside in Prince George's County, yet only 4 percent of the federal government's leased office space is there.

That disconnect is a disservice to hard-working residents and also creates an enormous strain on traffic and commuting patterns. As new Census data released this month show, more workers commute into the District from Prince George's County each day then from anywhere else, and D.C. workers have the longest commutes in the nation. An FBI headquarters in Greenbelt would help relieve those conditions and would make life better for thousands of workers and commuters.

As much as we wish it wasn't the case, Maryland continues to wrangle with Virginia for both private-sector and public-sector jobs. There is a sense among many — whether warranted or not — that Maryland is at a disadvantage in both areas. The General Services Administration can help rectify that inequality by recognizing the very real benefits that the Greenbelt location carries, and deciding quickly that it is the right place to build.

The current situation in Washington, with budget sequestration upon us and a push for funding cutbacks in the air, shows that high levels of federal spending and employment in Maryland can be a double-edged sword. Indeed, we must work even harder to create the conditions for innovation and private-sector job growth. But that doesn't mean we should ignore an opportunity before us that makes tremendous sense, and that would pay benefits for decades to come.

Maryland's congressional delegation is firmly behind the push to bring the FBI to Greenbelt, and it's time for the rest of the state to get behind the effort as well. For example, when the GSA seeks formal proposals for sites, we can write and let our voices be heard. We can support leaders in Prince George's and elsewhere who will be fighting to bring the headquarters into Maryland. By sticking together, we can make this happen.

Ken Ulman is the Howard County executive. His email is kulman@howardcountymd.gov.

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