New plan for FBI headquarters gets cold shoulder on Capitol Hill

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members want a full briefing from GSA on its new plan for the FBI headquarters.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members are frustrated and disappointed with the General Services Administration’s explanation about why it decided to reverse six years of effort and build the FBI’s new headquarters on its existing site.

Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) told GSA Administrator Emily Murphy and Public Building Service Commissioner Dan Mathews today that they want a full briefing and to see all the contemporaneous documents from the FBI.

“I do not think your answers hold up. They contradict six years of laying the ground work for a different rationale of where it ought to be located, the value of consolidation, the danger of the lack of consolidation and legitimate physical security concerns,” Connolly said Thursday at the hearing before the Subcommittee on Government Operations. “The rationales coming out of GSA do not add up, whether it’s ‘we didn’t have the money because Congress didn’t appropriate it,’ or ‘the FBI has changed its mind.’”

GSA told lawmakers earlier this week that it plans to tear down the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington and build a modern headquarters. GSA and the FBI told senators the cash-and-land deal proposed under the old headquarters consolidation plan was too risky to implement.

The decision to go with a demolish-and-build approach comes after GSA and the FBI announced in July it was cancelling the program because of a $882 million funding gap.

GSA and the FBI have been working on the cash-and-land deal since 2012, released a solicitation in 2013 and had narrowed down its choices down to three developers’ proposals — one each in Springfield, Virginia; Greenbelt, Maryland; and Landover, Maryland—and then postponed its decision three times.

Meadows and Connolly pressed GSA on why it changed its approach.

Mathews, who has been PBS Commissioner since July and is a former staff director of the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, said the FBI decided it needed space for fewer employees than it initially thought, which is why the demolish-and-build approach now makes more sense.

“There is a consolidation going on. The FBI consolidation on to this location will grow from the current roughly 5,600 people to 8,300. That is almost a 50 percent increase of the number of FBI personnel that will be consolidated into this proposed demolish-rebuild,” Mathews said. “The previous plans were for a larger consolidation, a larger requirement of 10,600. When the requirement was 10,600 employees for the FBI, that wasn’t going to fit on Pennsylvania Avenue and it necessitated a different location with a larger footprint. But with the smaller number of required people for that facility, that put other sites into play, not just the current site, but other sites as well.”

Mathews said rebuilding at the current site gives GSA advantages as well that could lead to cost savings.

“The transportation network that exists at this site, the metro, the road networks, they are already there. The infrastructure that would serve that facility, particularly the classified communication cables and things like that, which are very costly to replace, those exist there already,” he said. “The basic infrastructure that feeds that facility, which is expensive to replicate, is already there.”

In the fiscal 2019 budget request, President Donald Trump included a $2.2 billion request for the FBI headquarters project as part of his infrastructure proposal.

Mathews explanation didn’t sit well with committee members.

Connolly said GSA’s estimate that its new approach would be $200 million cheaper is shortsighted as he believes the project will only increase in costs as it gets planned out.

Meadows doubted that tearing down and rebuilding on the current site is less risky than the cash-and-land swap deal.

Beyond the disappointment with the FBI decision, Connolly also wants GSA to answer about the money it spent over the last six years and the broken processes.

“These announcements constitute a body blow to public confidence in the federal government’s ability to effectively manage a building procurement on the scale of the proposed FBI headquarters. The federal government comes off as unreliable and whimsical in the extreme,” he said. “What damage has this done to faith in the federal procurement process? What was the cost to the private businesses, localities and states that participated in this competition? The procurement process alone cost 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.  The decision also has an impact on the hardworking men and women of the FBI who fight every day to keep our country safe.  FBI’s current headquarters is, by all accounts, in disrepair and literally crumbling around its employees. Instead of a new consolidated headquarters near home here in the DC region, some of those employees now face continued uncertainty about this project and a potential relocation to Idaho, West Virginia or Alabama.”

Connolly also said he’s concerned that this new approach would leave the FBI as one of the only members of the intelligence community that does not have a standalone campus.  He said the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the  National Security Agency and the Homeland Security Department all have their own campuses to mitigate both physical and espionage threats.

GSA offered no new timetable for the demolish-and-build effort, and the committee wants more answers before signing off on the approach.

“I will not let this rest as it relates to the FBI building and the decisions that were made there. This is a bi-partisan issue and I can tell you before you proceed ahead, this committee wants to know all decisions that went into making the new decision that has been announced,” Meadows said. “I don’t agree with it. I can be convinced. But at this particular point based on the information at this hearing, I’m not convinced.”

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