Thursday, November 24, 2022

Maryland or Virginia, Which Will Win the Jump Ball For a New FBI Building?

The J. Edgar Hoover building is a notorious failure as government architecture. Expensive, dysfunctional, not physically secure, and falling apart. Not to mention an aesthetic monstrosity completely out of step with the rest of DC's Federal Triangle. But just as bad as the building itself is the failure of Congress and multiple administrations to put the thing out of its misery and build a new FBI HQ. 

A replacement HQ is on the table once again, it seems, although I have to question how likely that really is in the lame duck portion of a Democratic administration with a new Republican majority in the House. Those Democratic seats in suburban Maryland and Virginia don't have control of committees anymore, and the FBI has blotted its copybook, as the Brits say, with the Republicans.

Nevertheless, here's the current state of play. GSA announced its site selection process several weeks ago, which has stirred some complaints from the Governor of Maryland. 
The U.S. General Services Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) today announced the site selection process for the new suburban FBI headquarters campus in the National Capital Region (NCR).

As part of the Fiscal Year 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress directed the GSA Administrator to select a site “as expeditiously as possible” from one of the three previously identified sites during project planning in 2016: Greenbelt, Md.; Landover, Md.; and Springfield, Va.

“GSA and the FBI are continuing to move forward to accomplish the key milestones outlined by Congress for the FBI headquarters campus,” said GSA Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service (PBS) Nina Albert. “We look forward to undertaking a fair and transparent process to select a site that will best serve the FBI for generations to come.”

“From the beginning, it has been our priority to identify a new headquarters solution that best meets the needs of the FBI and our workforce, and is a good deal for the taxpayers," said FBI Assistant Director for the Finance and Facilities Division Nicholas Dimos. “We appreciate the efforts of GSA to work in tandem with the FBI to craft a clear process to select the location for the FBI's suburban campus within the National Capital Region.”
First of all, notice that no consideration will be given to the option of keeping the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington DC. Why not keep it there, the simple-minded taxpayer might well ask, since that seems the obvious location for a federal government agency.

Well, how many divisions has the Pope? how many votes and committee seats does DC have in Congress? There's your answer. 

In other words, a big load of delicious government money plus unforetold follow-on land developer boodles are on the table and two starving dogs are salivating at the thought of it. The elected officials of Maryland and Northern Virginia are eyeball to eyeball, growling and whining, and it’s anybody’s guess which one will prevail. 

Notice as well that the GSA has taken a real step toward open process and transparency by making its selection criteria public. It added this disclaimer when it made the criteria public, just to point out it's going the extra mile to be fair and evenhanded. 
“Disclaimer: GSA site selection plans are deliberative in nature and are not routinely released prior to selecting a site. GSA is choosing to release the site selection plan in this instance for the sole purpose of facilitating transparency in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Headquarters site selection.”
What's not to like about all that? Well, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Prince George’s County officials started crying the blues over the inclusion of "proximity to existing FBI facilities" as one of the sub-criteria, since those facilities are in Virginia (as are the Federal courthouses most involved with FBI cases). 

Cry away, but proximity is a perfectly legitimate criterion for site selection, even a key one, and Virginia unquestionably has the edge on Maryland there. You’re not going to win that argument, Gov. Hogan.

Please use the GSA link above to view the site selection criteria, particularly Table #1: Overview of Criteria and Weighting Criteria. The weighting of decision factors is all-important. That's the secret sauce in this tasty dish. Whoever decides on the weighting has all but got the final decision in the bag.

Two factors - FBI Mission Requirements and Transportation Access - are weighted 60 percent between them, and according to my understanding of the geography of the suburban DC area, Virginia has the clear advantage over both the Maryland sites. 
The District's government is the third party to this matter, but it's only in the running for the consolation prize of a vacated Hoover Building site, if that. The WaPo has reported that if and when the FBI finally vacates its Pennsylvania Avenue site, "the District would have the opportunity to gain control of the land from the federal government and transform it into housing, retail, and more.”

Housing?? How big do they think the Hoover Bldg site is? There will never be any housing there, if only because that use wouldn’t throw off anywhere near the tax revenue of a hotel or office building. 

And all that is assuming the Fed will someday relinquish the property to DC, which I wouldn’t bet on them doing.

The U.S. taxpayers emphatically do not have a seat at this table, but of they did, they could make some very good arguments for constructing a new HQ right on the site of the old one. 

First of all, there's the biggest factor in any real estate deal - location, location, and location - and the current location next to the Justice Department in the Federal Triangle is ideal for FBI mission requirements. Then, there are the sunk costs that have already gone into its perimeter, utilities, and (presumably) secure communications infrastructure; why pay those costs again for a new site? A new building would require less space due to digitalization and the dispersal of some functions that have taken place since the Hoover building was designed in the 1970s - the fingerprint center was moved to WVA, for instance - and that smaller footprint would allow the new building to have enough setback distance for adequate blast resistance. 

If the GSA has questions about how to design an office building to resist bomb blast, it can see my good friends at OBO for details. They've done that about 170 times in the last twenty years and have it down pat by now.

Most of all, the purchase price for that old site would be zero. I notice site cost is weighted a paltry 10 percent in GSA's selection criteria, so evidently that isn't a big concern for them, but as a taxpayer, I’d like to see it weighted around 50 percent.

There is one other party to this deal that has no seat at the table - the FBI agents who will have to work in the new place. The Washington Post has reported “FBI leadership and its agents' association previously said they want to stay in D.C. close to the Department of Justice,” which I can understand. 

Of course the FBI HQ should stay near the downtown core, that’s a simple matter of mission requirements. But then, that wouldn’t satisfy the raging hunger of our elected officials in Maryland and Virginia for federal bacon.

Hey, FBI Agents Association, when you get yourselves elected to Congress the GSA will take your wishes into consideration. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Watched A Cat Video Lately? Take 50cc of Populism Vaccine and You'll Feel Better In the Morning.

Those populism-fighting injections of fake news vaccine are packaged as cat videos. Yeah, cat videos, and you taxpayers made it possible. 
This strange belief in the persuasive power of cat videos seems to go back a ways, specifically, to one year ago when the New York Times warned all right-thinking Americans that online cat videos might harbor misinformation (i.e., unacceptable opinion, or at most, quibbling over definitions). 

Here's that story from December 2021. And, since that story was behind a paywall, here's the WaPo's article about that NYT article.

There was once a time when you needed a shortwave radio to hear good propaganda, which I used to do over Radio Moscow. When the propagandists of the old USSR wanted to stretch a point or zoom past some questionable logic, they would simply preface a statement with the phrase "as is well known." A good forthright lie, and nothing that would trouble an audience that was already listening to Radio Moscow.  

I like that approach much better than the complicated rationalization schemes that lie behind our global engagement center's ridiculous cartoons.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Funny Thing About High-End Residential Security

You can see that funny thing in the photo above. A multimillion-dollar residence, this one happens to be owned by the high government official who is third in line of Presidential sucession, something which has brought unwanted attention to the place, that is equipped with CCTV cameras and various alarm systems, presumably also with some kind of access control devices on the exterior doors, and even occasional security presence outside, but for which nobody thought to provide any kind of barrier against forcible entry. I find that odd. 

See the broken glazings in those french doors at the rear of the house? The fact that some shattered glass is still hanging in the frame is a big clue that the glazings are of laminated safety glass - the same thing you have in your car's windshield - and that material is tough enough to require a few good whacks of a tool to break through, although it is still, obviously, not a forced-entry barrier that would keep even the dumbest intruder outside until police can respond. 

What accounts for that oversight? The homeowners no doubt employ expensive help of all kinds to design, build, and maintain that very nice house in San Francisco. Possibly a security consultant as well? At least, we may be sure they get home security advice from the U.S. Capitol Police. And yet when an intruder came with a hammer, the only things he faced were cameras and alarms, none of which hindered him in the least.

It's as if all the people who gave security advice or sold services to the Pelosis have a repertoire that runs the gamut from A to B - cameras to alarms - and they have no idea what to do about a nut case who brings a hammer.  

Actually, judging by my own experience, that's exactly the way it is for all private sector security contractors and 90 percent of their government sector counterparts. 

At least the incident in San Francisco has reportedly raised questions about home security for Congress.
“Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger sent a memo to House offices on Saturday calling the attack “a somber reminder of the threats elected officials and families face in 2022” and outlining existing security resources that lawmakers have, including residential security assessments and law enforcement coordination.” 
-- snip -- 
“Congress has doled out money to help fortify the Capitol complex in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack. And, in response to pressure from lawmakers, members were informed earlier this year that the House sergeant-at-arms would cover up to $10,000 for security equipment at their homes.”

$10K is enough to pay for consumer grade home alarms, but once again it seems no one is thinking about actual physical barriers of the kind that can keep an attacker outside the house while alarms do their thing to get a police response started. 

The Capitol Police would be well advised to consult with their government partners a little more broadly and find some who have expertise in hard physical barriers - that is, with walls, doors, and windows - that delay forced-entry attacks. 

I'll get them started by pointing to a supplier of French doors that can resist tool attacks. There! As a public service, you can have that advice at no cost.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Somebody Just Woke Up After a Long Deep Sleep

The ACLU must have set its alarm clock for one week before the mid-term elections, because just yesterday they opened their eyes and tweeted out that old bromide about what the First Amendment is for. 

Well, quite a bit has changed while they were asleep the past two years. Maybe they'll catch up on all that's gone on between DHS and the IT industry if and when control of the House and Senate flips to the Republicans.


She Used Her Personal Phone and Email For Official Business to Avoid Openness and Accountability?

Well, well, well. What's all this then? 

High government officials doing their official business over personal phones and personal email to avoid freedom of information laws, that's what. And in the case of fleeting PM Liz Truss - the Queen Slayer - that evasion may come back to bite her. 

Truss evidently lacks Hillary's willingness to simply lie and deny when caught breaking the law

It seems they have a lot to learn about modern democracy over there.

State Magazine Notes the Cost in Lives For 75 Years of Diplomacy in Pakistan

It's quite a good article, which you can read here:
One sobering statistic is that 19 U.S. civilian and military personnel have lost their lives in the line of duty, from terrorist attacks and in an airplane crash in Pakistan. Four died in a single day in 1979 when a mob attacked the old U.S. Embassy, trapping nearly 140 American and Pakistani employees and a journalist in a secure suite of rooms for hours as violent vandals ransacked and burned the compound in Islamabad. A Marine corporal died of a gunshot wound while observing the mob from a roof, an Army warrant officer perished in a fire in a residence building, and two Pakistani staff members died of asphyxiation elsewhere on the compound. 
Two Embassy employees died in a terrorist attack in 2002, two in 2006, three in 2008, one in 2009, three in 2010, and two as recently as 2016. Additionally, Ambassador Arnold Raphel and Army Brig. Gen. Herbert Wassom died in a plane explosion that also killed then-President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in 1988.
That's quite a toll for maintaining a diplomatic presence and advancing our national interests in a country that is not currently having a war or revolution.

Requiescat in pace