Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) held his first hearing as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management yesterday (Wednesday, March 13). The hearing examined the proposal to relocate the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). As we’ve already reported, the FBI and GSA have determined that the J. Edgar Hoover (JEH) Building no longer meets the agency’s requirements and are working on a plan to replace it with a new facility that could house more of the FBI’s approximately 10,000 employees in the Washington, D.C., area, about half of whom currently work in 21 separate leased facilities.
The subcommittee reviewed the need for a new FBI headquarters, examined location and financing options for such a project, and considered the future of the existing FBI headquarters building, should any project proceed. All speakers agreed that the JEH Building needs to be replaced; ranking subcommittee member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia) called it “the ugliest building in town—good riddance!”
“This is one of the largest, most complex projects the GSA has ever proposed,” said Barletta. “As we consider whether to authorize GSA proceeding with such a project, we will continue to consider what is in the best interests of the FBI and the taxpayers.”
The hearing’s first panel featured local Members of Congress Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), all of whom presented the merits of locating a new headquarters campus in their districts while agreeing that the government’s goal should be a fair, open, transparent competitive process, free of political interference, that results in the best deal for both the FBI and taxpayers. Hoyer and Edwards cited multiple reasons to place the campus in Prince George’s County, Md., including ample and relatively affordable undeveloped land near various Metrorail stations, proximity to Fort Meade (home to the National Security Agency and its cyber command center) and other federal facilities, and large numbers of federal workers. While Hoyer told the subcommittee that 43 percent of FBI headquarters employees live in Maryland—compared to 33 percent in Virginia and 17 percent in the District—neither GSA or FBI officials have confirmed those figures. “Prince George’s County is the right fit for the FBI and it will do right by the FBI,” concluded Edwards.
Connolly and Moran advocated two sites in Fairfax County, Va.—a federally owned GSA warehouse in Springfield and the Center for Innovative Technology campus near Dulles Airport—while also citing numerous reasons why Northern Virginia is the ideal location for the FBI, including proximity to the FBI Academy at Quantico and other federal crime-fighting facilities, transit access, a highly skilled workforce, and high quality of life. Wolf, citing many of the same features, encouraged the subcommittee not to limit the search to sites within 2.5 miles of the Capital Beltway (as recommended by a Senate committee resolution), noting that doing so would arbitrarily disqualify Virginia’s Prince William and Loudoun counties; Norton agreed, adding that it also would disqualify most of the District of Columbia.
Update on the Process
The second panel—GSA’s Public Building Service Commissioner Dorothy Robyn and FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin L. Perkins—focused on why a new FBI headquarters is needed, what progress GSA and the FBI have made in the search process and how they expect it to proceed. Robyn began by reviewing the deficiencies of the JEH Building and stressed that GSA is hoping to unlock the “hidden value” in its Pennsylvania Avenue location by using GSA’s exchange authority to trade it for a new campus built elsewhere. She said that if an exchange does take place, GSA would transfer title for the JEH Building in return for the new facility. Noting that GSA now is evaluating the 35 responses it received to its request for information (one of which is “larger than a breadbox”), she said it likely will be months before GSA can issue a request for proposals from prospective private development partners. She also pledged that “every jurisdiction in the National Capital Region will get fair consideration” in the search process.
Perkins described the FBI’s changing space needs as it has evolved, post-9/11, into a national security organization, and said that the agency is open to any sites that meet its operational and security requirements. He estimated that consolidating staff from all of its leased facilities and the JEH Building into a single, approximately 2.1 million-square-foot facility would reduce the agency’s total space needs by about 1 million square feet, save it about $44 million annually and enable it to operate more efficiently.
Cost remains a major issue. Barletta warned that although his committee recognizes the FBI’s need for a new headquarters, “I do not imagine the committee writing a blank check.” Robyn and GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini still have plenty of fiscal hurdles to clear, including how to structure a deal that will not require up-front appropriations, how to address OMB scoring issues, and what they will do if the JEH Building does not fetch a price high enough to build a new facility. But Barletta remains hopeful, saying “if we are successful, this has the potential for becoming a model for public-private partnerships in the future.” For links to an archived video of the hearing and written testimony, click here.