The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Time to relocate FBI headquarters — whether that hurts the Trump hotel or not

The  J. Edgar Hoover Building in D.C. in 2015.
The J. Edgar Hoover Building in D.C. in 2015. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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NOW THAT facts are back in fashion, it’s useful to recall the ones that argued in favor of relocating the FBI headquarters, an architectural eyesore in downtown D.C. notable for its crumbling facade, inadequate security, antiquated infrastructure and inadequate square footage.

Before the Trump administration, there was such broad consensus that the building should be razed, with the FBI relocated to a CIA-style suburban campus, that Congress had already appropriated nearly $1 billion for the project. The only real questions were who would develop it and which of a handful of finalist locations would be selected for the new facility.

Enter President Donald Trump, whose namesake hotel is catty corner from the FBI on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. Months after taking office, the president intervened to block the relocation, a move that also happened to shield his own company’s hotel from the potential that a competing property would be developed on the FBI site.

Mr. Trump’s meddling derailed an important project that would have saved money and enhanced the security of thousands of FBI employees. Now that he’s gone, the Biden administration should revive the FBI’s relocation to a nearby suburban Virginia or Maryland site.

The move’s rationale hasn’t changed in the decade since the federal government concluded that the J. Edgar Hoover Building, completed in 1975, had become obsolete to the FBI’s needs. Today, thousands of bureau employees, for whom there is no space at headquarters, are scattered in office buildings around the D.C. region, at significant cost to taxpayers. The danger to pedestrians posed by falling chunks of concrete is such that netting has been installed on the building’s east facade.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, skilled at picking his battles, chose not to challenge the Trump administration’s insistence that the agency’s headquarters remain in its current location, in a newly constructed building. He said it would be the most convenient option for bureau employees given their need for frequent meetings at nearby agencies.

In fact, rebuilding at the current site would result in a too-small facility that would force thousands of employees to be relocated — to offices in Alabama and Idaho, among other distant places specified by the FBI. By contrast, a nearby suburban campus — of the sort that has worked well for the CIA, in Virginia, and the National Security Agency, in Maryland — would enable the bureau to consolidate headquarters staff in one location, at a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars. A new suburban headquarters would also allow for the construction of other features long deemed priorities, including a separate facility for inspecting trucks and a detached utility plant.

The Trump administration’s plan, characteristically, left a trail of questions about shady maneuvering. It is now the subject of an inquiry by the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office. While that’s in progress, the bureau should move beyond the mess conjured by the departed president.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Trump blatantly boosts his own hotel in the relief bill, and Republicans play dumb

The Post’s View: The FBI needs new digs. For some reason, Trump doesn’t seem inclined to help.

Jesse Heitz: A final appeal for the Hoover building

Jack Evans: The FBI building belongs in D.C. — at Poplar Point

Greg Sargent: The GOP’s whining about Biden is absurd. Good thing Democrats are ignoring it.