The Federal Emergency Management Agency is planning to move into a new headquarters in the coming years, breaking from other Department of Homeland Security components that are moving to a consolidated campus.
In 2027, FEMA will move two blocks from its current leased office space to a renovated and federally owned facility at 301 7th Street SW — across the street from the Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters.
A FEMA spokesperson told Federal News Network the new headquarters will include a larger space for its National Response Coordination Center, and that the new space “fits the unique needs of emergency management.”
“This move and the building’s renovations provide FEMA the opportunity to design a space that fits the unique needs of emergency management,” the spokesperson said. “Moving into a federally owned building will better protect taxpayer investments into the facility infrastructure which are needed to meet FEMA’s operational needs.”
FEMA currently resides in two buildings at 400 C St. and 500 C St. SW.
The spokesperson added that over FEMA’s 45-year history, “our areas of responsibility have increased,” as disasters have become more frequent and severe.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell described the new headquarters to employees, in a recent all-staff email, as a 1930s Art Deco/Moderne style building that stands out as “one of the earliest examples of federal architecture in Washington, D.C.”
“As emergency managers, we constantly evolve to meet the needs of those we serve. Our workspace should be held to the same standard,” she wrote.
Criswell told employees in the email that the building first served as a federal warehouse, but was converted into office space in 1964.
“The building design was revolutionary at the time, and just like FEMA, it continued to evolve over the years to meet the needs and missions of its occupants,” she wrote.
The building’s interior, she told employees, will be demolished and rebuilt to include modern workspaces, conference rooms and Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFS).
“These newly designed spaces will allow us to continue to improve our capabilities to help people before, during, and after disasters. And, importantly, as a federally owned space, the new facility will offer long-term stability and cost savings,” Criswell wrote.
Criswell said the new headquarters’ proximity to its current building will only require employees to make “minor adjustments” to their commute. FEMA, she added, will remain close to the White House, as well as other federal agency partners and Congress.
The planned move reinforces FEMA’s decision years ago to break with other DHS component agencies and avoid moving to the consolidated St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast D.C.
The move to a federally owned building also reflects a change in plans FEMA made only a few years ago, to stay in their lease office space for up to 20 years.
The agency made its decision the same year DHS and the General Services Administration asked Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a FEMA headquarters at the ongoing St. Elizabeths campus.
DHS Undersecretary for Management Randolph “Tex” Alles told Federal News Network in 2019 that long-term options for housing FEMA included extending the lease on its current space, or moving FEMA personnel to the National Capital Region Building that GSA owns near L’Enfant Plaza.
FEMA joins the Transportation Security Agency and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as DHS component agencies that opted out of moving to St. Elizabeths and building their own headquarters in the national capital region.
FEMA’s decision to walk away from the St. Elizabeths campus reflects difficulties DHS and GSA have had in managing budget shortfalls while still trying to bring a critical mass of employees to the site.
The original master plan for the St. Elizabeths campus called for FEMA to relocate its headquarters, along with all other DHS components “directly involved in programmatic functions for mission execution,” GSA wrote in a 2020 prospectus.
The campus has been under construction for more than a decade. Construction is expected to be completed in 2026.
In September 2020, a GSA spokesperson told Federal News Network that “FEMA is no longer part of the St. Elizabeths campus consolidation plan.”