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.
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.
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
“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.