By J.F. MEILS and HELEN PARSHALL
WASHINGTON — After planning that began in the George W. Bush administration, officials from Maryland at the national and state level are cautiously optimistic the latest push for a new FBI complex located outside the District of Columbia will come to fruition after a five-month delay.
“This project has been going on for more than a decade,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said in a statement to Capital News Service. “This is about the needs of the FBI and our national security. We want to know how GSA (General Services Administration) is going to get to ‘yes’.”
Five months after GSA announced it would cease planning for a new FBI complex, the project received a fresh 60-day extension from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week to revise its building plan.
“Providing the FBI with a new headquarters to carry out its critical mission to protect the American people is a top priority for GSA,” said a statement from the General Services Administration. “We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to develop the best possible solution in as timely a manner as practicable.”
GSA’s explanation for the cancellation in July cited a shortfall of $882 million in 2017 federal funding for a project that called for $1.4 billion.
“That appeared to be much more of an excuse than a real explanation for their decision,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, told Capital News Service in an interview. “Congress on a bipartisan basis had already provided a very significant down payment on the new FBI building, and had legislation that said we would provide the remainder.”
Van Hollen noted there was still $323 million appropriated for the project in the 2017 budget, and that GSA was now looking into a range of different financing scenarios.
One of the obstacles in the old GSA plan was a so-called “swap” requirement, where the sale of the FBI’s current headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover building at 935 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., in downtown Washington, would be required as part of the funding for the new site.
Going forward, these two sites will be treated separately in the planning process, Van Hollen confirmed.
Before GSA cancelled its plans for the new FBI complex in July, there were three contenders for a new location: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland, and Springfield, Virginia.
Advocates for the Maryland sites believe they have an advantage over the Virginia site, which is home to existing federal agencies that would have to be moved, adding cost.
The FBI outgrew its headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue long ago. A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office stated that the Hoover building and its annexes no longer were able to “fully support the FBI’s long-term security, space, and building condition requirements.”
Calling the structure “aging and inefficient,” the GAO study identified security risks and inefficiencies due to the dispersal of FBI employees across leased sites throughout the District of Columbia because the deteriorating building could no longer house the bureau’s growing staff.
According to the GAO report, the FBI had more than 17,000 employees housed in more than 40 annexes, and programs in 21 of those sites that “should be co-located to meet the agency’s mission requirements.” The FBI staff was projected to grow by 7 percent between the report’s time of publication and this fiscal year.
As for Prince George’s County, home to both of the Maryland sites, the waiting game continues, but with renewed hope.
“After the initial shock (from the July cancellation), what we decided to do, very wisely, was stay in this (ready) posture,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who is also running for governor. “They (the FBI) can’t stay where they are, therefore there is going to be a new and hopefully consolidated facility. It was just a matter of talking to developers and making sure they were still very interested.”
To date, Prince George’s has spent about $1 million on the FBI effort, according David S. Iannucci, head of economic development for the county.
“I remain confident that Prince George’s County continues to be the best choice for the fully consolidated FBI headquarters,” Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a statement to Capital News Service.
Hoyer and Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Upper Marlboro, have been outspoken in favor of moving the building to Prince George’s, both for the economic benefits to Maryland and to meet new security requirements for the FBI.
“Both the locations are near transit with available space where you can build secure facilities, and where the men and women of the FBI can find a place where they want to work and live,” said Matthew Verghese, Brown’s communications director
GSA has until February 1, 2018 to submit a new plan.
Baker had a meeting with the FBI and GSA regarding the project a few weeks ago where he said he was left with a mixed message about next steps.
“The ideal situation would be to start from where they left off (in the planning process) and in the same breath, they said there may be a resolicitation of the bids,” Baker said. “We don’t think there should be a resolicitation. If the bidders are willing to leave their money on the table and their work and their site, there should not be a solicitation.”
After the July cancellation of the project, there was media speculation that the Trump administration was behind it for a range of reasons, including the Robert Mueller investigation or the possibility that a hotel would replace the Hoover building and compete with the Trump International Hotel, only blocks away.
Capital News Service could not confirm any overt influence over the July cancellation by the White House.
For Maryland’s sake, hopes remain high that the new process by GSA will land the project in Prince George’s County.
“It’d be the same as getting the Pentagon in northern Virginia,” Baker said.