FBI lays out what it wants in a new headquarters

It was 35 minutes past the scheduled start time when everyone had finally made their way through the security and Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator of the General Services Administration, took the podium.

He assumed by the size of the crowd — an estimated 350 people, some of them watching on a screen in an overflow room — that there was a lot of interest in building a new headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “I think that bodes pretty well for this project,” he said.

Six weeks after issuing a broad search for ideas of how and where to build a consolidated headquarters for the FBI, developers, Tangherlini and his staff reiterated why they wished to swap the J. Edgar Hoover building property on Pennsylvania Avenue for a new consolidated FBI headquarters: the Hoover building is obsolete and the government has limited capital to build a replacement.

For the first time at the meeting Jan. 17, a high-ranking FBI official explained in public exactly what the agency is seeking. Patrick G. Findlay, FBI assistant director for facilities and logistics services, said that from the moment the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took place, the FBI had evolved into an agency that the Hoover Building could not serve.

The Hoover building houses only 52 percent of the agency’s headquarters staff, with others in Quantico and Clarksburg, W.Va. The northern end of the property was built to house thousands of files and a crime laboratory that had long ago relocated; meanwhile the agency had increased its headquarters staff by 25 percent since the attacks (intelligence analysts, language specialists, scientists and information technology specialists) and lacked enough office space to house them. “We started putting people in the loading dock and the garage,” he joked.

Findlay, who said he has been working on getting the agency a new home for seven years already, praised Tangherlini for spending six hours meeting with Director Robert S. Mueller, III and touring the Hoover Building within weeks of taking over at the GSA.

He then described the agency’s ideal landing spot: a 2.1 million-square-foot facility on 40 to 55 acres that could accommodate 11,000 employees. “We are supporters of public transit. A very small portion of headquarters workers drive in individual cars to get to work,” he said.

Responses to an initial search for private partners are due March 4, but a number of steps must be taken for the agency to actually move. The Senate passed a resolution in 2011 supporting a site of up to 55 acres within two miles of a Metro station and 2.5 miles of the Beltway, but the House has never taken corresponding action.

Nonetheless, developers, builders, private landowners and local economic development officials have begun lining up their shots either to acquire the 6.66-acre Hoover Building property, win the work building a new FBI headquarters or both.

The week prior, Virginia officials met at the urging of Rep. Jim Moran (D) to demonstrate that its members are — at least at this point — wholly united in making sure the FBI moves to the commonwealth no matter the location.

Officials from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership briefed attendees of that meeting on what it considered the most attractive sites: a GSA-owned warehouse in Springfield, the Fort Belvoir North area, the CIT headquarters in Herndon, sites around Dulles Airport, Quantico and Potomac Shores property in Dumfries.

Economic development officials for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) have been more coy about their best shot at landing the FBI. And not to be forgotten, hours before the GSA and FBI officials held their briefing, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) told a News Channel 8 interviewer that he thought the agency ought to remain in the District.

Some officials in his administration have floated the 110-acre riverfront property Poplar Point as a possibility.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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