Sunday, October 18, 2015

FBI's Hoover Building HQ - Not Worth Fixing, And Too Expensive to Replace

The Hoover Building in Legos (better built than the real thing)

Will Representative Jason Chaffetz and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee please take official notice of the Hoover Building? Chaffetz is hot on the trail of cost overruns and purported mismanagement in the case of U.S. embassy overseas office building construction, but he's passing up a good one right in front of his face in the Federal Triangle of Washington DC.

The FBI's Headquarters building is a well-known architectural, managerial, financial, and security disaster. The inability of the USG to either fix or replace it is a disaster of another kind. See the WaPo story of this week, which asks a good question - The FBI’s headquarters is falling apart. Why is it so hard for America to build a new one? That kind of question is right up HOGR's alley, isn't it?

How big a disaster is the FBI headquarters building, exactly? Well, it is only forty years old yet the structure is already collapsing - big chunks of it drop off regularly. The office space is dysfunctional - only 53 percent of it is judged to be usable. It is insufficient to house all headquarters' activities - the FBI has non-consolidated annexes all over the region. It cannot comply with modern Federal office building security standards, policies, and best practices due to its design and location, especially its total lack of setback distance from surrounding streets.

That's all bad enough. But consider that the Hoover Building was the most expensive new federal office building ever when it was completed in 1975 at a cost of $126 million. That final cost was more than double the original cost estimate of $60 million. Was HOGR asleep at the switch back in the 1970s, too?

The current cost estimates for a replacement FBI Headquarters run between $1.4 and $2 billion. That is more than twice the cost of the much-maligned new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, a project that drew intense House Oversight, if not much Reform, less than ten years ago. And unlike in Baghdad, the FBI doesn't need a campus full of 20-some buildings, perimeter walls and gates, defenses against mortars and rockets, on-compound housing and feeding for its staff and third-country security guards, an aviation wing, medical facilities, and more stuff like that. Not to mention that there was a very active war going on all around, and sometimes on, that Baghdad construction site.

If the FBI does manage to get a new Headquarters built someday, it will have to be on the outskirts of Washington DC in order to get the setback distances that are necessary to meet our domestic government office building security standards. Those standards, BTW, are not nearly as onerous as their counterparts for overseas buildings.

Why is it that Rep Chaffetz will spend so much time and trouble to beat up on my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations over comparatively penny-ante costs and overruns for U.S. embassy construction and security in places like Kabul, London, Jakarta, and Mexico City, but then give the FBI a pass for running a decrepit and security-deficient headquarters building and pursuing a TWO BILLION DOLLAR replacement project?

A few excerpts from the WaPo:

Beneath the headquarters of America’s premier crime-fighting organization, one of the parking ramps has been condemned because corroded pieces of the ceiling were falling on cars.

Netting hangs on the Ninth Street facade to prevent broken concrete from hitting passersby 160 feet down on the sidewalk below. During a July fire drill, half of the building’s alarms didn’t go off.

-- snip --

Three years ago, the federal government launched a search for a new site for its headquarters but that effort is months behind schedule. FBI officials fear that with Congress increasingly unwilling to pass funding measures, the move to a new building could be dramatically pushed back or set aside following next year’s election.

-- snip --

Looming over the process is the failed attempt to consolidate the Department of Homeland Security, whose own headquarters consolidation in Southeast D.C. won approval six years ago but is less than one-quarter complete, a decade behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget.

Nearly three years after the FBI’s search began a final location has not been identified and funding has not been secured. In the meantime, the FBI’s 9,500 headquarters employees are spread throughout 14 locations in the Washington region.

-- snip --

In an effort to secure its perimeter, the FBI shuttered some exterior entrances and put 298 cement planters on the sidewalks around the building, most of them filled with only dirt because plants were deemed too costly to maintain. The netting on Ninth Street catches falling pieces of concrete; Director James B. Comey Jr. keeps one of the larger pieces in his office.

Further retrofitting is prohibitively expensive; despite the Hoover building’s overall size of 2.4 million gross square feet only 53 percent of that is usable according to a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office.

-- snip --

As the Hoover’s problems worsened, the FBI and GSA planned a 2.1-million-square-foot campus that could accommodate 11,000 FBI personnel within two-and-a-half miles of the Capital Beltway and two miles of a Metro station.

Unlike the Hoover Building, which is separated by a sidewalk from traffic, the new campus would likely have 50-foot setbacks with blast-resistant façades and separate facilities for mail screening and visitors.

GSA officials, lacking congressionally approved funds to build such a campus, proposed a novel solution to pay for it, trading the Hoover Building site for the money needed to build the new facility.

The strategy aimed to take advantage of booming property values along Pennsylvania Avenue and to avoid the fate of St. Elizabeths, where Congress approved the consolidation of the Department of Homeland Security but repeatedly failed to provide construction money. The search has narrowed to three sites, in Greenbelt, Landover and Springfield, and attracted a half dozen big money development teams interested in the work.

-- snip --

Without funding, Hoover and the other FBI buildings will remain in a state of purgatory — not worth fixing, but not worth saving.

It seems to me the U.S. taxpayers are in another kind of purgatory, stuck with the bill for two perpetually unfinished multi-billion dollar office consolidation projects - the FBI's, and the even more expensive and screwed-up beyond repair DHS headquarters - neither of which Congress will either cancel or fund sufficiently to bring them to completion.

Where can the taxpayers go to get oversight and reform of that situation?


James said...

"Netting hangs on the Ninth Street facade to prevent broken concrete from hitting passersby 160 feet down on the sidewalk below." I've got a good guess of what happened there. Same thing happened in Austin with the LBJ Library. The exterior was cut limestone panels roughly 4"x4'x8' to be anchored with stainless steel anchors as per specs. My Dad was the second low bidder by around $50,000.00. Well after about 6 yrs panels started falling off. UT did a forensic on it (with my father) and found that every anchor was black iron. Difference in cost between black iron and SS about $1.00/anchor. Number of anchors, right at 50,000. An amazing coincidence. I have a funny story about this if you want to hear it. Those DC projects must be huge pig troughs.

Anonymous said...

TSB: Good post! The Homeland security headquarters is a good example of big government putting 400 related agencies under one roof run by keith alexander in his roof top command center. Trump will just go in and have his Mexican workers and engineers convert that place to a federal prison to hold illegal immigrants until they can be shipped back to their countries of origin at the expense of their countries of origin. With the profits Trump will build office buildings all over the world to repay the foreign leaders who paid for the Trump Prison System. Bernie Sanders will applaud the erasure of private prisons. gwb (And Hillary can do 6 months for writing bad emails as a lesson for everyone on lying to congress as further punishment he might provide her with geo tracking to watch what Bill is doing while she's in the slammer.) Hey, while we're at it he might extradite Nuland to Russia for interrogation on Trumped up charges? gwb

Anonymous said...

James! That's good stuff. Let's hear the other story. gwb

TSB said...

James: The Hoover Building's problems are even worse than falling panels. it has no panels or exterior cladding at all, just raw concrete in the "concrete brut" architectural style that was popular for a while back in the 60s. I guess they cut out the crooked middleman and did a shoddy building intentionally.

James said...

"it has no panels or exterior cladding at all, just raw concrete in the "concrete brut".
You think the rebar is rusting and spawling off the concrete?
GWB: My Dad went down to look at the job for rebid (take all the panels off and replace all the anchors and limestone pieces that had fell or were not salvageable)afterwards he stopped in a nearby famous BBQ joint where he ran into a cut stone manufacturer rep. The guy asked him what he was up to and my Dad still pissed about missing the job the first time gave him an earful. Which boiled down to "this wasn't just negligence and people should go to jail". Well the two guys at the table next to them got up and left without finishing their meals. The rep then told Dad "that was the original project architect and UT inspector for the original building project". Dad was second on the bid to repair the building.

TSB said...

James: The concrete could be rotting or the rebar rusting. I suspect it was just a fundamentally bad design. At any rate, the Hoover Building stands out like an eyesore in a federal district full of much older but still sturdy stone buildings.