The J. Edgar Hoover Building is going to be the headquarters for the FBI for a lot longer. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post) (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
The federal government is canceling the search for a new FBI headquarters, according to officials familiar with the decision, putting a more than decade-long search by the bureau to move out of the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building back at square one.
The decision follows years of failed attempts by federal officials to convince Congress to fully back a plan for a campus in the Washington suburbs paid for by trading away the Hoover Building to a real estate developer and putting up nearly $2 billion in taxpayer funds to cover the remaining cost.
Officials from the General Services Administration, which handles federal real estate, plan to announce the cancellation in a phone call with bidders and meetings on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the decision before it was announced.
Officials and executives involved in the process said that a lack of permanent leadership at both agencies could have hindered the case for funding.
Both agencies are operating under transitioning leadership, as President Trump’s appointee to the FBI, Christopher Wray, has not yet been confirmed, and Trump has not appointed a permanent GSA administrator.
A damaged wall surrounding the exterior of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Trump has had an unusual relationship with both the GSA and the FBI. The GSA is the landlord to his D.C. hotel. Trump has also been embroiled in a high-profile dispute with the FBI over its ongoing Russia investigation, having fired director James B. Comey — who lobbied hard for a new campus — in May.
As the search dragged on, developers bidding on the project and the federal government both began to bear inordinate costs.
Real estate companies pursuing the deal spent years and millions of dollars attempting to make their case for the project. The GSA, meanwhile, is housing many of the bureau’s 9,500 headquarters employees using expensive short-term leases at 14 locations throughout the Washington region because the staff long ago outgrew the Hoover Building.
Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, the GSA and FBI sought more funding for the project than they ultimately received.
Obama had sought $1.4 billion toward construction of the project but in May, Congress left it underfunded by more than a half a billion dollars. Congressional leaders had pulled together $523 million toward the project and possibly $315 million more through transfers of existing funds previously meant for other uses.
That was on top of $390 million that had been previously appropriated for the project.
Then in June House appropriators rescinded $200 million from the project, drawing exasperation from Maryland and Virginia officials who have been pushing for the government to decide amongst three final locations in either Greenbelt, Md., Landover, Md., or Springfield, Va.
At the time the House took back the $200 million, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) called the decision “reprehensible.”
“A new, fully consolidated FBI headquarters is important for the safety and security of our nation,” they said in a statement.
In the meantime, the FBI headquarters is crumbling. On a rare tour of the building in 2015, bureau officials pointed to cracked concrete, makeshift work stations in former storage areas and badly dated building systems. The officials said the structure is now so inefficient that it has begun to hinder the agency’s modern mission, one increasingly focused on combating international terrorist threats and cyber crime.
They are also increasingly concerned that the Hoover Building could be susceptible to attacks.
“Having a state-of-the-art facility that meets that mission is paramount,” said Richard L. Haley II, FBI assistant director and chief financial officer, in an interview in 2015. “Security concerns are important. And you just have to open up the public records to see where you know bad things can happen if you don’t have the right security precautions.”
Trump was familiar with the project from his career as a real estate developer. In 2013 he signed a lease for another GSA property nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Old Post Office Pavilion, which he turned into the Trump International Hotel.
But his presidency raised questions about whether the agency would be able to make an impartial decision given the involvement of two billionaire New York City developers who were among the final four bidders and who have ties with the president.
Steven Roth, founder of Vornado Realty Trust, served as an economic adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign and co-owns a building with him and others with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Larry Silverstein, who founded his development company in 1957, has developed, owned or managed 40 million square feet of commercial real estate. He has called Trump a “friend of mine.”