The Federal Bureau of Investigation needs a new headquarters. Virginia, Maryland, federal and local stakeholders agree the J. Edgar Hoover Building is crumbling and outdated and cannot meet the agency’s growing challenges. Unfortunately, and with many questions left unanswered, the process led by the General Services Administration to procure a new FBI headquarters has collapsed. The public deserves answers that can only be reached through an immediate and comprehensive Inspector General investigation of this deeply flawed procurement.
The FBI headquarters project is yet another example of the federal government wasting time and money — in this case millions of dollars and nearly a decade of project development. The procurement process alone cost the GSA $20 million with nothing to show for it. The cost to the FBI has not been disclosed, but even that information would not provide a comprehensive accounting of the taxpayer dollars wasted on this project. For that, we would have to include the uncertainty developers will now price into all future business involving large-scale federal real property procurements. Make no mistake, there will be a long-term cost to this bungled procurement. It will be difficult to quantify, but you can be sure that the American taxpayer will be forced to pick up the tab.
In July of last year, the GSA pulled the project. They blamed the cancellation on the inability to secure a congressional appropriation of $1.4 billion. So what is the agency’s proposed solution? A $2.2 billion appropriations request buried in the president’s fictional infrastructure plan. A farce within a farce.
As if to further move the goal posts, the GSA recently announced it will abandon entirely a plan to fully consolidate the headquarters of the FBI in either Virginia or Maryland and instead will demolish and rebuild the Hoover Building. The decision will inflict real harm on the FBI, and it is a body blow to public confidence in the GSA’s ability to effectively manage a building procurement on the scale of the proposed FBI headquarters.
Even more confounding, the new headquarters proposal completely contradicts earlier plans that deemed consolidation of FBI components across the National Capital Region crucial to national security. The GSA’s own building project survey stated, “Dispersion diverts time and resources, hampers coordination, decreases flexibility, and impedes FBI’s ability to respond to ever changing, asymmetric threats.” Yet, the new proposal would send 3,000 FBI employees to Idaho, West Virginia and Alabama.
I personally participated in meetings with the GSA in which the area congressional delegation was cautioned on the insufficient security setbacks at the proposed headquarters site in Springfield. That was a suburban environment with a 30-acre footprint. How those original security concerns are satisfied by the current Hoover site in the middle of downtown D.C. has not been explained to Congress. When pressed on this issue, the head of the Public Building Service for the GSA stated under oath that the FBI “changed their program requirements.”
The security requirements the FBI simply changed its mind about were developed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing to protect sensitive federal installations. The fact that the FBI could disregard its own strict security specifications this late in the game makes the federal government appear capricious and whimsical in the extreme.
We owe it to the public to provide much needed transparency to this process and help the federal government prevent such an immense failure of the public trust from ever happening again. I have already asked the Government Accountability Office to examine this procurement. But this latest reversal from the GSA and the FBI raises serious questions about process and influence, and it demands the further scrutiny of the Inspectors General for the Justice Department and the GSA.
Among the myriad concerns that must be addressed, we must know the level to which the White House interfered in this procurement. The development of the Hoover site into a mixed use, retail, hotel and residential development could have competed with the Trump Hotel and affected the president’s personal bottom line. In his first budget, the president requested $0 for the headquarters plan that would have redeveloped the Hoover site but is now setting aside $2.2 billion of a yet to be defined $200 billion infrastructure package for a plan that precludes the construction of a new hotel on the Hoover site.
It is clear the federal government is in full retreat away from a fully consolidated FBI headquarters — disregarding efficiencies, cost savings, mission capabilities and national security in the process. The question is who is leading the retreat?
Gerry Connolly, a Democrat, represents Virginia’s 11th District in the House.