Op-ed by Rex Repass and Dan McGinn
Cincinnati should be able to compete for FBI HQ
This op-ed by Rex Repass and Dan McGinn was originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Rex Repass is founder and president of Cincinnati-based Repass Research, a market research firm, and Dan McGinn is founder and CEO of McGinn and Co., a Washington-area strategic communications firm.
The powers that be in Washington, D.C., are about to make a multibillion-dollar economic development decision that would further enrich the Washington area while intentionally excluding the rest of the country from competing for the opportunity. President-elect Donald Trump should intervene.
The government agency responsible for supporting federal offices is set to award a construction contract for a new FBI headquarters that will cost upward of $2 billion and bring with it 9,000 permanent jobs.
The process for awarding the contract is a symbol of what's wrong with the federal government and why the country has so little confidence in Washington. Before the bidding process began, Congress and the General Services Administration determined that only the District of Columbia and neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia could compete for the project.
Dozens of other states and counties would certainly vie for the chance to land the FBI headquarters project, a unique development opportunity that would transform the region that wins the bid. If Ohio were allowed to compete, for example, consider the effect on the Cincinnati MSA: 13 counties, representing 2,137,406 residents – an FBI headquartered in Greater Cincinnati would support employment in three states.
Only 1.4 percent of Ohio’s residents are (non-military) federal employees; in Maryland and Virginia, the U.S. government provides 5.6 percent and 4.6 percent of the jobs, respectively. Yet Congress and the GSA won’t allow competition. It makes no sense.
The decision to exclude the other 48 states is perceived by Congress and the GSA as reasonable, even essential. It is neither. A process that pre-determines that the rest of the country doesn't get a chance to submit a proposal is unfair, unwise and unjustifiable.
The argument that the FBI wouldn't be able to fulfill its mission if forced to operate outside the National Capital Region might have been valid in the 1920s, but it is no longer a rational justification. In fact, in the age of terror, building another federal facility in a region where scores already exist is risky, if not foolhardy.
Beyond the national security considerations of locating sensitive agencies within such a small area, the economic considerations are also significant. The new FBI complex is projected to need 2.1 million square feet to house thousands of workers. We’re not aware of another entity anywhere – government or private – that's seeking to build a headquarters of comparable size, with a payroll anywhere close to the FBI's.
If the presidential election proves anything, it is that most Americans have low regard for Washington. The D.C. area celebrates that six of the 10 wealthiest counties in the United States are there. The rest of the country seethes at this fact. The widespread public disdain for the way Washington operates should be considered in the FBI decision. There is no simple answer to this problem, but relocating important federal agencies to communities across the country would be a positive step.
Candidate Trump said, "It's time to drain the swamp in Washington, DC." While his stated focus was the lobbying community, a second focus should be on the government itself. It's one thing for Washington to lay permanent claim to the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, the Treasury, the State Department, the Smithsonian and the Pentagon. It's another thing to say that the entire federal apparatus, from the FBI to FEMA to the FDIC, must also be there.
If Ohio could bid on and win the new FBI HQ in a fair, open bidding process, the impact on Cincinnati would be unprecedented. The D.C. business community would be disappointed, but the rest of the nation would see it as a step in the right direction. And the country would still be as secure as ever. More significantly, a message would be sent to every American that the federal government belongs to the country, not just to the inhabitants of the Washington Beltway.
This article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Equirer