What’s Going on With Trump and the FBI Building?
Over the weekend, news emerged that President Donald Trump wanted to micro-manage the redevelopment of the FBI headquarters at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest in downtown Washington, D.C.
An administration source told Axios that the developer-turned-Commander-in-Chief “wants to oversee the project at an excruciating level of detail: the cost per square foot, the materials used, the renovation specs, etc. He’s treating it like it’s a Trump Organization construction project.” He also declared the well-known Brutalist building “terrible” and “one of the ugliest buildings in the city,” the political news outlet reported.
The FBI’s current home, the 43-year-old J. Edgar Hoover Building, has been widely regarded as crumbling and decrepit for years. The Ninth Street side of the facade has netting hanging from its face because pieces of concrete have fallen on pedestrians. And the building needs more than $100 million in repairs and maintenance, according to testimony delivered last August by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who chairs the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee. FBI officials have estimated that it would cost several hundred million dollars to replace key pieces of the building’s now-outdated, 1970s infrastructure and renovate the facility.
And for every year that the federal government delays replacing the Hoover building, the cost of short-term repairs and construction on the building rise by $84 million, the General Services Administration (GSA) Public Buildings Commissioner Daniel Matthews testified during a Senate hearing in February.
The GSA, which oversees construction and leasing for federal agencies, has been contemplating relocating the FBI headquarters for a decade. The agency reportedly spent $20 million over a decade to explore and identify a suburban site for the FBI. By the end of 2016, the GSA had found three sites—in Springfield, Va. and Landover and Greenbelt, Md.—where it could potentially build a sprawling multi-building campus for the FBI. In the suburbs, officials argued, the law enforcement agency could build a more secure compound than its current street-facing building, a truck inspection facility, a dedicated power plant, and new parking garages. Congress even appropriated $913 million to help fund a development that was expected to cost $3.6 billion.
But the FBI’s new campus plan didn’t pan out. Six months after Trump took office, his administration did an about-face on the new FBI building and abandoned the suburban campus plan. Then earlier this year, the FBI and the Trump administration announced that the agency would stay right where it was, which happens to be right across the street from the D.C. outpost of the Trump International Hotel. The hotel, located in the Old Post Office Building, sits on GSA property and is the subject of a federal court case over whether the hotel violates the constitution’s prohibitions against the president doing business with foreign governments.
In February, the Trump administration unveiled plans to either demolish and rebuild or renovate the FBI’s existing building on Pennsylvania Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets SW. The GSA told the Washington Post that the FBI made the decision to remain in the District on its own, but the paper confirmed with administration sources that Trump had begun meddling in the redevelopment process. Constructing a new building on the lot would cost $3.3 billion, and a four-phase renovation of the existing Hoover facility would run to $3.8 billion, according to estimates included in the February presentation from the GSA.
Unlike a suburban campus, the new FBI headquarters would not have room to consolidate all 11,000 of the agency’s capital-area staff. Instead, the administration would split 8,300 FBI staffers between a new D.C. building and the bureau’s training facility in Quantico, Va. Another 2,300 employees would be moved to FBI offices in Alabama, Idaho and West Virginia.
After the Trump administration unveiled its new plan, the GSA’s inspector general agreed to investigate the sudden reversal in policy and whether the proposal takes into account all of the potential costs and security requirements, Federal News Radio reported in March. Notably, the GSA’s $3.3 billion cost estimate for a new headquarters does not include rent payments for temporary office space that would house several thousand FBI employees during the years-long demolition and construction project. (The administration’s 22-page slide deck does peg the cost of designing and fitting out a temporary headquarters office at $479 million.)
The FBI and the White House didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
“The decision for the FBI headquarters to remain at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW was made by the FBI,” GSA spokeswoman Pamela Dixon told CO in an email. “GSA is committed to continuing its work with partners at the FBI, and in Congress, to provide a modern and secure headquarters facility where the FBI can perform its critical law enforcement and national security work.”
Officials from Maryland—some of whom are still fighting for a suburban FBI campus in their states—are predictably upset by Trump’s unusual involvement in the redevelopment of the Hoover building.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland said in a statement to the Post that “there is no question that the President stands to gain financially by keeping the FBI in its existing building and blocking any competition for the Trump Hotel from being developed there.”
Maryland’s other senator, Democrat Ben Cardin, told the Washington Business Journal that representatives from the FBI and GSA denied the president’s involvement during a hearing in February. He added that the “president’s concerns have been specifically expressed that he doesn’t like the way that the building looks, and is clearly more concerned about the appearance of the building than the usefulness of the building from the point of view of the FBI’s mission.”
Update: This story has been updated with a statement from the GSA.