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Thu May 20, 2021 - Southeast Edition
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has gotten under way on construction of a new, modern campus at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. The effort is part of a multi-year effort to expand its presence at the Army base, where dozens of other national agencies also have facilities, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
The expansion projects are expected to top $1 billion, funding that was secured for the FBI by lawmakers, most notably Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
According to Federal News Network (FNN), the FBI is looking 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.
"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," Terry Wade, executive associate director of criminal and cyber at the bureau, said recently at the Professional Services Council's virtual law enforcement conference.
The Redstone Arsenal became famous decades ago when NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the Defense Intelligence Agency's Missile and Space Intelligence Center were built there.
The FBI first came to the massive base in the 1970s and has gradually moved more employees to Huntsville in recent years. The bureau previously planned to move its headquarters from the outdated Hoover building in Washington, D.C., to a consolidated campus in suburban Maryland or Virginia. Those plans, however, were abruptly dropped by the FBI in 2019, causing frustration and confusion among many lawmakers.
Currently, the bureau has approximately 860 employees in Huntsville, but the FBI envisions at least 3,400 people will work at the Redstone Arsenal by 2026. That is still only a fraction of the law enforcement agency's total of 36,000 employees, although many are already dispersed across the country in Washington, Clarksburg, W.V., 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," explained Adam Rhodes, an FBI program manager and Huntsville transition team leader. "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."
FNN reported that the Alabama campus will eventually support training exercises for an additional 2,000 people over the next five years.
In fact, the FBI is building out on two distinct campuses on the Redstone Arsenal. The 243-acre 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, according to FNN.
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. In addition, the FBI also is constructing an innovation center nearby that will include a space dedicated to cyber threat intelligence, analytics, training and changing threats, that will support 340 employees from the bureau's operational, IT, counterintelligence and counterterrorism divisions. Wade said that it will be made up of a kinetic cyber range, a 22,000-sq.-ft. unclassified training facility for cyber investigators and a virtual reality classroom.
"We're looking at training hundreds of people a month in that facility," added Rhodes in speaking with FNN. "We're also focused on digital forensics and extractions off media devices."
Construction on the technology buildings and innovation center should be finished in 2024 and 2025, Rhodes said. He noted that another four spaces could eventually serve as additional capacity for the FBI in the future, depending, of course, on available funding.
The south campus at the Redstone Arsenal is already home to the FBI's Hazardous Devices School, but it will one day serve as a training ground for FBI agents and technicians.
Rhodes said that part of the bureau's footprint in Huntsville 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 and tools in a real-world setting.
"We're really excited about this project," he said. "We've launched an operational working group for the south campus where we've infused ideas from our external partners."
Rhodes explained that the FBI has just completed an overall plan for the site, and is working to get funding that will allow it to become operational in four years.
Each of the two Huntsville expansions also will create more opportunities for contractors and building suppliers from the private sector vendors, FNN reported, and the FBI is launching a new website to help vendors better connect with the bureau. The online portal is expected to roll out in the spring or summer.