FBI expanding footprint in Huntsville as part of multi-year realignment strategy

The FBI is building out a new, state-of-the art campus at a popular federal site, part of a multi-year effort to expand its presence at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

The goal is to strategically realign the bureau, enhance its training programs, create a common space for academic and private sector partners and tap into top IT talent in the region, FBI officials said Tuesday at the Professional Services Council’s virtual law enforcement conference.

“Our overarching goals with the Huntsville expansion are to enhance operations and create synergies between FBI program areas that are all currently spread out geographically and functionally — and also create resiliency and continuity of operations should an outage or a catastrophic event occur in the national capital region,” said Terry Wade, executive associate director for criminal and cyber at the bureau.

The FBI has been at Redstone Arsenal since the 1970s and has gradually moved more employees to Huntsville in recent years. The bureau previously planned to move its headquarters from the historic yet outdated Hoover building in Washington, D.C., to a consolidated campus in suburban Maryland or Virginia.

But the FBI abruptly dropped those plans back in 2019, prompting frustration and confusion from lawmakers, especially those in the national capital region. For now, the FBI is focused on its plans to expand the bureau’s footprint in Huntsville, where dozens of other agencies also have facilities at Redstone Arsenal.

The bureau has about 860 employees there today, but the FBI envisions at least 3,400 people will work at Redstone Arsenal by 2026.

That’s still a relatively small fraction of the FBI’s 36,000 employees. Many are already dispersed across the country in Washington, Clarksburg, West Virginia, and other locations.

“As we look toward the future, we’re really focused on an investment strategy that will be surrounded by enterprise applied technology and advanced and specialized training,” said Adam Rhodes, an FBI program manager and Huntsville transition team lead. “We want the FBI Redstone to be the epicenter of the FBI’s technology development, and we want to standardize and consolidate advanced trainings that are across the country right now in Redstone and create a graduate school for the FBI training program.”

The campus will eventually support training exercises for an additional 2,000 people over the next five years, the FBI said.

Today the FBI is building two campuses on Redstone Arsenal, an Army base that’s also home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — among others.

The north campus will accommodate FBI professional staff — about 1,350 employees — from 11 different divisions.

“When we talk about strategic realignment, we are very much focused on that building, providing us an opportunity to explore new talent, to diversify our portfolio, to move our missions out of the national capital region in some cases and create this resilient posture,” Rhodes said.

The bureau has six new buildings either in the design stage or under construction on the north campus, including a gym and wellness center and two new technology buildings.

The FBI is also building an innovation center on the north campus, which will include a space dedicated to cyber threat intelligence, analytics, training and changing threats.

“We’re looking at training hundreds of people a month in that facility,” Rhodes said. “We’re also focused on digital forensics and extractions off media devices.”

The center will support 340 employees from the FBI’s operational, IT, counterintelligence and counterterrorism divisions. It’ll include a kinetic cyber range, a 22,000-square-foot unclassified training facility for cyber investigators and a virtual reality classroom, Wade said.

Construction on the technology buildings and innovation center should be finished in 2024 and 2025, Rhodes said.

There’s room to grow as well. Rhodes pointed out four spaces that could eventually serve as additional capacity for the FBI in the future, depending, of course, on available funding.

The south campus is already home to the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School, but it will eventually serve as a training ground for FBI agents and technicians.

Rhodes said the campus will include an academic zone, where agents can conduct research and develop new tools and products, as well as a “smart city,” which will allow FBI employees to test and apply their training or new tools in a real-world setting.

“We’re really excited about this project,” he said. “We’ve launched a south campus operational working group. We’ve infused ideas from our external partners. Right now we’ve just finished a master plan for this site, and we are really working toward an investment strategy that will allow us to become operational in 2025.”

With the FBI expanding at Redstone, the bureau is looking for more talent with specific skillsets, including IT service desk technicians, cybersecurity analysts and network engineers, as well as data analysts and computer scientists.

“Some are going to be in demand right away,” said Tammy Clark, a supervisory contract specialist and Huntsville contract transition lead. “Some in demand for the innovation center are down the road in 2024.”

A few other federal agencies have relocated a portion of their employees out of the Washington area in recent years, including the Bureau of Land Management and two research bureaus at the Agriculture Department. Both agencies lost talent with the moves.

The Huntsville expansion will also open up more contracting opportunities for private sector vendors, and the FBI is launching a new website to help industry better connect with the bureau.

The FBI is expected to roll out the new site — www.biz.fbi.gov — in late spring or summer, said Barbara Clouser, a small business representative and competition advocate for the bureau.

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