Trump administration scraps plan for new FBI headquarters

Published 7/11/17 in the Baltimore Sun

The Trump administration is scrapping the government’s decade-long plan to close the FBI‘s deteriorating headquarters in downtown Washington and replace it with a new building in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs.

The General Services Administration, the government’s landlord, plans to announce the decision Tuesday morning, according to an administration official familiar with the plans.

The GSA decided it could not go forward with the elaborate plan to replace the J. Edgar Hoover building because the project did not obtain all the required funding, the official said.

The agency had been planning a complex swap in which a developer would receive the rights to construct a new building at the current headquarters site, just off Pennsylvania Ave., a few blocks from the Capitol. In return, the developer would cover much of the cost of the new building.

With that plan now abandoned, the administration will need to come up with a new approach to resolving the FBI’s need for a new headquarters.

Maryland’s congressional delegation reacted with dismay to the news.

U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer called the reports “extremely alarming.”

“If reports that the General Services Administration is canceling the plan for the fully consolidated FBI headquarters relocation project are true, this is an extremely alarming development,” the Southern Maryland Democrat said. “By canceling the current FBI headquarters relocation procurement process, the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress are putting the safety and security of our country at risk.”

“Reports that the Trump Administration would pull the plug on a new FBI headquarters — something desperately needed for America’s national security — are deeply troubling and something I would strongly oppose,” Van Hollen said. “At a time when President Trump refused to fund a new headquarters in his budget and has repeatedly attacked the FBI and its employees, this would be unacceptable.”

The decision comes at a time when the FBI lacks a permanent chief. President Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey in May. The confirmation hearing for the man Trump has chosen to replace Comey, Christopher Wray, is scheduled for Wednesday.

Officials from Maryland and Virginia have competed intensely for years to land the new headquarters, which would have been the largest new government building project in decades. But the rest of Congress had repeatedly balked at the huge price tag.

The Obama administration had sought $1.4 billion for the project, which would have covered only part of the cost, but Congress earlier this year appropriated only about 60 percent of that.

The General Services Administration said in 2014 the project would be built at one of three locations: Greenbelt or Landover in Maryland, or Springfield, Va. Delays in relocation have added to construction costs and have forced the FBI to spend millions on rent.

The headquarters relocation would have had an enormous economic impact on Maryland and in Prince George’s County, where two sites were being considered. The FBI has about 11,000 employees and it would have been one of the state’s largest employers.

The FBI’s current headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, cannot accommodate all the agency’s employees. The headquarters workforce is scattered among about two dozen annex buildings in the Washington region.

The Hoover building, which opened in 1975, needs an estimated $80.5 million in repairs and upgrades. Parts of it have been covered in netting to prevent falling chunks of concrete from hitting the sidewalk.

Officials repeatedly have said that in addition to those problems, the building is badly out of date technologically and that updating it would be prohibitively expensive.

State and Prince George’s County officials had spent years wooing the FBI to relocate. The University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore planned to launch a joint national security academy. Gov. Larry Hogan pledged $317 million in infrastructure and traffic improvements to accommodate a new headquarters in Greenbelt, and $255 million for the Landover site.