Fed Hub

fbi hqIn recent years, it seemed like Virginia had a lock on the collateral benefits of the federal government’s expansionist tendencies. The Commonwealth has attracted scores of defense-oriented businesses, agencies and headquarters who want a home address within a Metro stop of the Pentagon.

But Maryland recently has made it clear that when Uncle Sam needs some lebensraum, the Old Line State (that’s the moniker George Washington gave it, according to local folklore) is ready and waiting to pounce.

The U.S. Social Security Administration’s huge new data center is expected to be up and running this summer on a site near Baltimore. Known as the National Support Center (NSC), this 300,000-square-foot facility will house all of the SSA’s computing and bandwidth. The long-planned effort to consolidate SSA’s core IT operations began in earnest in January. The federal agency that serves up millions of Social Security checks plans to utilize virtualization to eliminate hundreds of the physical servers currently in use, as well as increase flexibility and energy efficiency.

The latest data center sustainability features have been built into the NSC, including high-density computing, “hot aisle” containment, Energy Star-certified appliances, convergent monitoring and solar power. Power utilization will be monitored down to branch circuits, improving load management and control. The agency plans to manage the use of power by employing LED lights, a dedicated substation and heating and cooling systems. SSA’s overall energy bill will be reduced by an estimated 30 percent, which presumably will help keep the federal pension fund from going belly up for a few more decades.

The SSA’s Maryland data center was one of the more hotly contested federal projects in recent years. The state secured the project nearly five years ago (and SSA bought the land for it), but the recession put a hold on the ground-breaking for the next two years. Once the shovels went in, it was full speed ahead; construction of the NSC was completed three months ahead of schedule. Conversion to a virtual-tape library was finished last October, followed by installation of the networking and storage infrastructure, which is set to be completed by March. The NSC opening in August will enable SSA to shut down several outdated regional data centers across the country.

Maryland also appears to be the front-runner for an even larger federal plum–the new headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Anyone who’s taken a class trip to the J. Edgar Hoover building on Pennsylvania Ave. in the heart of downtown Washington probably remembers two things about it: the machine-gun demonstration by the G-men (kids are given spent shell casings), one of the coolest things you can see in D.C.; and the overbearing architecture of the 1970s-era structure, which produced one of the ugliest buildings in the country.

We don’t know how much concrete they poured to make the foreboding edifice that is the FBI headquarters (the Hoover that comes to mind when we look at it is Hoover Dam), but suffice it to say it’s probably harder to penetrate the walls than it is to take a peek at what’s left of J. Edgar’s secret stash of personal files on power brokers and presidents (the ones his buddy Clyde Tolson forgot to shred when the Director passed away in 1972, like the secret wiretapping of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s hotel rooms).

This week, several big-name developers were invited to bid on a new 2.1-million-square-foot home for the FBI and its 11,000 HQ employees. The winning bidder will get much more than the project to build a new suburban HQ for the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency: they’ll also get the rights to tear down the 41-year-old Hoover building and redevelop one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the nation’s capital.

Two sites in Maryland, in Greenbelt and Landover (both in Prince George’s County), are competing with Springfield, VA for the new home of the FBI. All three sites meet the government’s requirement that the new HQ be within a stone’s throw of the Capital Beltway and Metro commuter rail stations.

The FBI outgrew its old HQ years ago; FBI operations are housed in at least 20 leased locations throughout the Washington Metro area, rentals that reportedly cost the government about $150 million annually. According to the General Services Administration, the 2.4-million-square-foot Hoover building now only houses about 52 percent of the agency’s HQ staff.

The winning site and developer are expected to be selected late this year. Hefty financial requirements for eligible bidders–including a minimum of $1 billion in “liquid assets not committed to other projects”–have limited the field to some of the biggest power players in commercial real estate. The developer who gets the big prize must be prepared for a long wait before realizing a total return on the investment: the government will not permit them to tear down the Hoover building and redevelop its 6.7-acre site until the new HQ is open for business, with the ribbon-cutting tentatively expected as late as 2023.

According to a report in The New York Times, major developers who may be preparing to bid on the project include a team headed by Theodore Lerner, billionaire owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team. Lerner’s partners reportedly include Silverstein Properties, developer of the new World Trade Center in New York, and construction giant Tishman.

Other industry leaders expected to put in bids include real-estate titans Boston Properties and the Peterson Companies, developers of the $4-billion National Harbor project on the Potomac River. Donald Trump, in the midst of a $200-million conversion of the Old Post Office into a luxury hotel a block away from the Hoover building, initially expressed interest in the FBI site, but the scope of the project may be too big for The Donald to enter the bidding process, according to the Times.

The GSA reportedly owns the Springfield site, where seven federal agencies are housed in a large warehouse that stands adjacent to–rumor has it–a highly secure CIA facility,  the Times reports. Proponents of the Greenbelt site have suggested the cost of relocating facilities now occupying the Springfield site may knock it out of the running for the new FBI HQ. An environmental-impact study of all three candidate sites will be released in May.

In putting the project to bid, the government issued a statement declaring it wants the new home of the FBI to “endow the workplace with a unique familiarity, character, image and ‘sense of place’ that will convey a sense of pride, purpose and dedication.”

Since the feebies have put “character” into the mix, we’ve got a modest suggestion that could significantly improve that element of the new FBI HQ: perhaps it’s time to take J. Edgar’s name off the building.