House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday that he was encouraged by the Obama administration’s efforts to build a new FBI headquarters, but that he is exploring ways to pay for it other than by trading the J. Edgar Hoover Building to a developer.

FBI officials led by Director James B. Comey Jr. are pressing for a new headquarters that will get the bureau out of the Hoover Buiding and allow it to consolidate units from around the region. The General Services Administration, which manages government real estate, has proposed swapping the Hoover building to a company willing to build the project.

Critics have questioned the swap idea because of the likelihood that it won’t preclude the need for congressional appropriations, since the Hoover Building is probably not worth the $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion that a new campus could cost.

Hoyer said he thinks the government could get a better deal by selling the Hoover Building separately and paying for the new headquarters with appropriations.

“I’ve never been a big fan of the swap, which is because I think it complicates the transaction and I don’t think it necessarily maximizes the value of that extraordinary piece of property,” Hoyer said. “I don’t think the building [itself] is worth much, frankly, but I don’t think there are too many better spots in the world than Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.”

GSA pursued the swap to avoid having to seek major appropriations from Congress, a process that has left the consolidation of the Department of Homeland Security less than half built and badly delayed.

But Hoyer said he was optimistic that support for the FBI would coalesce on Capitol Hill, particularly given the bureau’s security concerns and the “regular attacks” America has endured recently.

“I personally think the swap originally was thought by GSA to preclude the necessity to get additional congressional authorization and approval. I don’t think that’s really the issue at this point in time. I think moving ahead would have the support of the congressional committees,” he said.

The GSA has narrowed its list of possible headquarters sites to three — Greenbelt, Landover and Springfield — and cut the list of possible development partners down from six, though the agency has not named them.

Hoyer has joined other elected officials in Maryland, including Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in backing the two Prince George’s sites and he said information released recently as part of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the project demonstrated that putting the bureau in Springfield would likely lead to delays and create “very substantial costs” of moving existing facilities there.

Beginning next week the GSA is holding a hearing near each of the sites to gather public input on the project.

If the administration continues to pursue a swap, it would be up to Congress to approve appropriations filling any gap between the value of the Hoover building and the cost of the new headquarters.

But Hoyer also said the Office of Management and Budget could ease the process by allowing the government to sign a lease-to-own deal without forcing the entire cost to count against one budget year.

“If you lease-to-own you could score on the annual lease cost, which is a lot more doable than all at one time,” he said. “There’s been some talk the administration would like to see it done as an appropriation. Obviously in my view that’s great but we need the full appropriation because there is no builder, developer that is going to be able to get a loan to develop it and build it unless there is some certainty of the dollars available to do so.”

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz