President Trump has become personally involved in plotting a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, an interest that for now has left the project in limbo and the agency stranded in a building that no longer suits its needs, according to officials and people familiar with the administration’s deliberations.
For years, FBI officials have raised alarms that decrepit conditions at its current headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, constitute serious security concerns. A year ago, federal officials had finally decided on three finalist locations in Maryland and Virginia, and Congress appropriated $913 million toward a project expected to cost more than $3 billion.
Six months after Trump entered the White House, his administration abandoned the plan, and it proposed in February that the government build a smaller headquarters to replace the Hoover building in downtown D.C. and move 2,300 other FBI staffers out of the Washington area altogether, to Alabama, Idaho and West Virginia. At the time, the decision baffled real estate experts and some members of Congress.
Those decisions, by the General Services Administration and the FBI, were made after Trump took a personal interest in the project, according to two people, who spoke Monday on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were meant to be private. One of them said Trump has frequently raised the issue of the FBI building and his desire for it to be torn down with appropriators. The website Axios reported Sunday that Trump was obsessed with the project and was “dead opposed” to plans to move it out of D.C.
Trump has an unusual relationship with both the GSA and the FBI. The GSA is the landlord to his D.C. hotel, which sits a block away from the Hoover building, in a deal that is the subject of a federal court case. Trump has also been embroiled in a high-profile dispute with the FBI over its ongoing Russia investigation, having fired Director James B. Comey last year.
Before entering politics, Trump said he was considering bidding on the project himself.
“We’ll be watching the FBI as to what’s going to happen,” Trump told The Washington Post in 2013. “Whether or not we will bid on it, we may, we may not. Now if we do as good a job as we will do with [the hotel], people may ask us about it.”
The GSA said in a statement Monday that the decision to stay downtown was made by the FBI, which did not respond to requests for comment. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it should not be surprising that the president, as a former real estate developer, would take a role in such a project.
“The President is interested in making sure taxpayer dollars spent on new buildings are being spent wisely and appropriately. He has been a builder all of his life and it should come as no surprise he wants to take the skills and great success he had in the private sector and apply it here,” Sanders said in a statement.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said Trump brought up the project with him in a meeting this spring and impressed upon him the importance of building the bureau a new headquarters downtown on what the president called a “beautiful” location.
“I agreed with him. I told him I thought it was a good idea,” Shelby said in an interview Monday. “Said it’s something that we need to do for safety and everything that goes with it.”
News of Trump’s involvement prompted alarm among Democrats on Capitol Hill, however, with some suggesting the president’s business — which owns his hotel and from which he still benefits financially — may have motivated his interest. At a February hearing, senators sharply asked administration officials whether they were aware of any involvement from the president.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) issued a statement Monday, saying “there is no question that the President stands to gain financially by keeping the FBI in its existing building and blocking any competition for the Trump Hotel from being developed there.”
"One has to wonder if the Trump administration’s decision to cancel the previous procurement process has anything to do with the proximity of the current FBI headquarters building to the Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement Monday.
It is rare for a president to become involved in a single government contract, although Trump has taken an interest in others — for example, tweeting in late 2016 about Boeing’s contract to build new planes to be used as Air Force One.
So far, the Trump administration’s plan for the FBI — outlined in a 23-page slide deck — has picked up little traction. The Hoover site is not large enough to consolidate the bureau’s 11,000-person headquarters staff, and it would not be able to accommodate a remote truck inspection facility and detached central utility plant, other headquarters priorities. The plan would also require relocating the FBI twice (moving the bureau out and back again), creating costs the slides do not account for.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who chairs the committee overseeing the GSA, said he has yet to receive an official prospectus for developing a new headquarters from the administration.
In the meantime, the FBI is stuck in a complex that was completed in 1975. Netting hangs on the Ninth Street NW facade to prevent broken concrete from hitting passersby on the sidewalk 160 feet below. Staffers on the 10th floor sit in a space designed to house 35 million fingerprint cards, which were relocated to West Virginia in 1995. There are more than $100 million in pending maintenance and repair needs.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday he is aggressively lobbying the Trump administration to move the FBI headquarters to one of the two sites in Prince George’s County identified as finalists. The GSA had narrowed the list to Greenbelt and Landover in Prince George’s or Springfield in Fairfax County, Va.
“We’re still trying to push for it,” Hogan said. “We’ve expressed our disappointment. We were at the White House fighting for it.”
But some officials in Maryland and Virginia, who spent years preparing to accommodate a new campus, have given up.
“If there were going to be a move, we would love to have the FBI headquarters in Fairfax, but we’ve kind of moved on,” said Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
This story has been updated to include Sen. Shelby’s comments.
Erin Cox, Mike DeBonis, Antonio Olivo and Erica Werner contributed to this report