WASHINGTON – Maryland and Washington, D.C., lawmakers Wednesday accused the White House of a "secret, behind closed doors" move that would put the headquarters of the Homeland Security Department in Northern Virginia.
A continuing budget resolution that was being debated by the House late Wednesday included a provision that called on the government to lease space in Northern Virginia to serve as interim headquarters of the new department.
"It's all been done in secret, behind closed doors, and was a surprise when it came out for all to see and vote for," said Afshin Mohamadi, press secretary for Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
Officials in Maryland, the District and Virginia have long been lobbying to land the agency, which was given final approval in November.
Maryland officials have touted four potential sites for the new agency, including White Oak, a 700-acre federally owned plot in Montgomery County; the 226-acre Suitland Federal Center in Prince George's County; and Fort Meade.
The District had proposed the 180-acre federally owned St. Elizabeth's Hospital campus for the new federal agency, which could employ up to 170,000 workers nationwide.
But Northern Virginia lawmakers defended the move to put the interim headquarters in their state, noting that it is already home to other security and defense agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense.
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., is letting the facts speak for themselves, said his spokesman Dan Drummond.
"He trusts the new agency will locate a place which is a benefit for new employees and the country as a whole," Drummond said.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement that Maryland and the District did not have a fair shot to compete for the headquarters.
"Bypassing congressional debate on the location of the Department of Homeland Security headquarters by slipping it into today's legislation is not only unfair to the different jurisdictions competing for the site, but doesn't offer members of Congress the chance to ask some of the important questions that surround this decision," Hoyer's statement said.
Those questions include whether the site will be Metro- and highway-accessible and whether thousands of federal employees will have to relocate.
A big question for D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was cost.
"Leasing space for so long a period will cost of a minimum of $250 million over 10 years with no economic return to the taxpayer," Norton said in a statement Wednesday. "This amount does not cover millions more the government will invest, in a building it does not own, for enhanced security.
"Thus the government appears to be embarked on the same road it took in the mid-1970s when it leased headquarters for the Department of Transportation with resulting aggregate lease payments of almost $1 billion, enough to buy the building several times over," the Democratic delegate said.
Norton has argued that a longstanding executive order states "all Cabinet agencies are to be located in the nation's capital."
The Department of Homeland Security headquarters provision was contained in a resolution to continue operation of the federal government, until Jan. 31, at levels set in the fiscal 2002 budget. The continuing resolution is needed because Congress has not been able to agree on a budget for fiscal 2003, which began on Oct. 1.