Credit: Getty Images/RossHelen

Montgomery County officials are making a bid to become the D.C. metro region’s home to the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, a new federal agency focused on biomedical research.

“We are the absolute perfect location in terms of talent, infrastructure, and being a great place to live, in Montgomery County,” said Bill Tompkins, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.

ARPA-H was launched by President Joe Biden in March 2022 and has a $1.5 billion budget this year. The goal of the agency is to “improve the U.S. government’s capabilities to speed research that can improve the health of all Americans” by providing “a novel pathway to catalyzing transformative health breakthroughs that cannot readily be accomplished through traditional research or commercial activity,” according to the White House website.

ARPA-H is considered to be within the National Institutes of Health but will operate as its own agency and will have three locations across the country. The agency cannot operate on the NIH campus, which is in Bethesda, according to the legislation. However, it could still operate within Montgomery County, under new legislation.

Previously, ARPA-H was not allowed to consider D.C., Maryland or Virginia for its headquarters, but state and local lawmakers successfully lobbied for legislation that now allows the agency to place one of its three sites in the region. ARPA-H is using temporary office space in Rockville.

“We feel it’s important to leverage the world’s largest biomedical research organization. It isn’t [Johns] Hopkins or MIT or in Texas or India. It’s in our backyard — it’s the National Institutes of Health. We have that federal innovation here,” said Judy Costello, special projects manager for the Montgomery County executive’s office.

While each ARPA-H location is predicted to employ only around 200 workers, Tompkins said the agency would fit in the county. 


“From our point of view, while this in the short term will create less than a couple hundred jobs, it’s the right couple of hundred jobs that fit the profile of Montgomery County. You’re talking about people with significantly advanced degrees, especially in the scientific field, and number two, the infrastructure is already here,” Tompkins said.

County Executive Marc Elrich has thrown his support behind housing the agency, writing a letter to ARPA-H Director Renee Wegrzyn and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and encouraging them to consider Montgomery County. There is no clear timeline for the agency choosing a location for their headquarters.

Elrich cited the accessibility of airports and public transit, the proximity to other federal research agencies, and quality of life as key reasons the agency should make its headquarters in Montgomery County.


“ARPA-H’s mission ‘to accelerate better health outcomes for everyone’ aligns with our county’s goals, and leverages our leadership position in the industry,”  Elrich told Bethesda Beat in an emailed statement. 

“Our community is filled with experts in cutting edge fields like phage therapy, cell and gene therapy, synthetic biology – and the knowledge and innovative spirit to help get these discoveries through FDA and CMS to patients.”

Other area jurisdictions – including D.C., Baltimore, Alexandria, Prince William County and Loudoun County – are also campaigning to house the agency.


But Tompkins contends that the data shows Montgomery County is the best choice, outweighing neighboring cities and counties.

“For me, it’s an open and shut case, but it’s obviously a competitive bidding process. Lots of regions around the country believe that they have some of the same assets or resources that we do, but when you put them all together, we have the combination of everything that you need to do it efficiently,” Tompkins said.

According to a presentation prepared by Tompkins’ agency, Montgomery County has the second highest concentration of life sciences and biotech workers in the U.S., with 62,700 STEM workers. Montgomery County is also home to 36 federal laboratories and 18 federal agency headquarters including NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. A total of $705 million was invested in life sciences in Montgomery County in 2022.


“We would be leveraging the investment that’s been made to date to help support this federal agency, whose mission we all believe in, which is to help improve the health of Montgomery County residents and people around the country,” Costello said.

Tompkins said MCEDC will continue to promote the county as the perfect hub for ARPA-H until a decision is made.