No one can leak to the press like people in the nation’s capital. For a city where so many things are classified, lots of people are really bad at keeping secrets. Amazon learned that lesson this past weekend.
To compliment its Seattle corporate headquarters, the online retail behemoth is going to build a second headquarters, dubbed HQ2 by the press, somewhere in the United States. Or now, likely due to leaks, maybe “somewheres.”
Over the weekend, thanks to leaks from someone with knowledge of the negotiations, the Washington Post (owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos but held separately from the publicly traded Amazon) published reports that Crystal City, a neighborhood in Arlington County, Va. in spitting distance from the Pentagon, was the front-runner for HQ2 and its eventual 50,000 jobs. The location meets more of Amazon’s criteria than anywhere else in the country. It has good access to public transportation, proximity to an international airport, diverse, well-educated residents, and most importantly, lots of available office space owned by a single entity.
One of the reasons Crystal City has so much available office space is that for years, one of real estate firm JBG Smith’s largest tenants was the Department of Defense. But in the round of base closings a decade ago, as renovations at the Pentagon were winding down, the Federal government built its own massive office building a few miles south in Alexandria. Offices that previously sat in Crystal City moved to the Mark Center, as the new building was called, and JBG Smith was left with a lot of open office space.
There’s still plenty of DoD presence in Crystal City, but there’s also a LOT of empty office space. According to Arlington Economic Development, the DOD’s Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC process, left 3.7 million square feet of empty office space across Arlington County, most of it concentrated in Crystal City and Rosslyn, separated from Crystal City by the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.
But the leaker who gave the Post the details of how Amazon was nearing its decision may have jeopardized the process. For its part, Amazon has been incredibly tight-lipped over the whole situation. It has said almost nothing. That changed after the first version of the Post article hit the web. Mike Grella is director of economic development public policy for Amazon Web services, the part of the business that makes the most money, and has the most incentive to be in Washington.
Grella tweeted on Saturday afternoon, “Memo to the genius leaking info about Crystal City, VA as
#HQ2 selection. You’re not doing Crystal City, VA any favors. And stop treating the NDA you signed like a used napkin.” Ouch.
Then came the news Monday, reported by both NBC and the Wall Street Journal, that Amazon may split HQ2 between two cities. That doesn’t mean Crystal City is out of the running. But it ought to raise eyebrows. It seems rash that a company as large as Amazon would change a decision to spite someone who leaked to the press. But it could be a signal to the leaker: “shut up.”
Amazon is one of a handful of companies in the running for the Pentagon’s massive $10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud computing contract, which will go to a single entity. (JEDI itself is another case of acronym abuse, short for the tortured “Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure”). Google removed itself from the running thanks to the whining of left-wing employees who apparently think Google’s “do no evil” motto applies to the U.S. government but not to serial human rights abuser China.
Amazon, which holds a $600 million cloud computing contract with the CIA, has long been thought to be the front-runner for the JEDI contract, even as lawmakers complain that the contract specifications were rigged in Amazon’s favor, and President Donald Trump announced that the Justice Department was looking at Amazon for potential antitrust violations. Bezos has been a frequent presidential target thanks to his ownership of the Post.
With so much at stake in Amazon’s relationship with Uncle Sam, a location somewhere in the greater Washington area is in Amazon’s best interest. HQ2 would also do wonders for Crystal City, and by extension, the whole region. So it’s in our professional leaking class’s best interest to button their lips for the time being.