GSA, FBI agree to provide ‘workable solution’ for future HQ project

The General Services Administration doubled down on its promise to find the Federal Bureau of Investigation a new home, and pledged by the end of the year to provide Congress with a “workable solution” for consolidating the bureau’s headquarters.

Acting Commissioner for GSA’s Public Buildings Service Michael Gelber, said “yes, sir” when asked by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) if he would deliver a plan within 120 days.

Richard Haley, chief financial officer and assistant director of the facilities and logistics services division at the FBI, chimed in with “absolutely,” when asked the same question during an Aug. 2 Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing.

“It is clear from today’s testimony that the FBI needs a new headquarters; fixing up the Hoover building with its $100 million backlog of maintenance needs makes little sense,” Barrasso said. “The elaborate plan to swap the Hoover building for a new headquarters facility was, in hindsight, not the best option. We need a new, cost effective and achievable plan to get the FBI into a new headquarters facility.”

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The committee hearing, which was titled “FBI Headquarters Consolidation Project — What Happened and What’s Next,” did not reveal specifics on next steps for the canceled consolidation project, but it did provide a platform for lawmakers to air their frustrations with the project, and get some answers on the decisions that ultimately led to its ending.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who represents one of the two states vying to be the location for the headquarters, said he felt a “great deal of frustration,” about the process.

“The delay, the mixed messages that we’ve received on financing, and the ignoring of the action of this committee and of Congress,” Cardin said. “As a result, there’s been a waste of taxpayer money, significant waste of money, and we’ve compromised the FBI’s ability to carry out its critical mission. That is plainly unacceptable.”

GSA announced July 11 the cancellation of the FBI headquarters consolidation project, citing a nearly $1 billion funding gap.

Reporter Meredith Somers discusses this story on Federal Drive with Tom Temin

A final selection for a new headquarters had already been delayed several times because of hesitation on Capitol Hill about the overall project’s price tag. The Obama administration had proposed to partially defray the costs by trading the downtown Washington real estate upon which the J. Edgar Hoover building now sits to the same developer chosen to build the new facility.

“At the end of the day, yes, it was not our preferred option, but given our funding constraints that we’re operating under and given the inability to gain full access to the money in the Federal Buildings Fund, that’s why we opted for the exchange concept,” Gelber said.

According to the Government Accountability Office, GSA requested $1.4 billion for the project in its fiscal 2017 budget request. Congress appropriated $523 million.

On Wednesday, Gelber said the current cost of the project was estimated at “$1.6 billion and up” and GSA alone had spent about $20 million on the process since it kicked off in 2011.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) had several questions on the history of the project and its original scoring by the Congressional Budget Office.

Gelber explained that for a major project like the FBI consolidation, CBO in this case would count all the years of the lease in the original year. For the FBI project, this came out to about $2 billion in costs which would have to be accounted for in the first budget cycle.

“Making it rather difficult to achieve,” Rounds asked.

“Yes, sir,” Gelber said.

Rounds said another issue that needed to be talked about is time value for properties.

David Wise, director of GAO’s physical infrastructure team, said the long lag time between when the developer was expected to build the new headquarters and get the title to the Hoover building meant that developer had to have “pretty deep pockets.”

Gelber said that time frame ranged between five and seven years.

“You need to look at trying to tighten or lessen the time lag, so that the relative value of the Hoover building will not deteriorate so much,” Wise said. “Because it will decline, the longer the time lag, the less value the building is to the developer, because he’s waiting and waiting and waiting .”

Haley did not give a dollar value when asked about the Hoover building’s worth, saying FBI was reluctant to speak about it in public because it might affect future procurement related to the disposal of the building.

Meeting the FBI’s needs

Money is one concern around the FBI project, but another issue is the Hoover building itself.

All three witnesses pointed out that the bureau’s mission had changed since the Hoover building’s construction in the 1960s, and some of the committee members also expressed their concern for both the welfare of workforce in the building, and impact the outdated structure could have on national security.

“We can all agree that there is an obvious need to move the FBI out of the Hoover Building to a new location and to consolidate other FBI locations,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) “Simply put, the Hoover building is an aging building that no longer meets the needs of the FBI. It suffers significantly from deferred maintenance, and the employees bear the brunt of that lack of investment.”

Haley said pipes are bursting, netting is required to hold up loose concrete, and moving wires from one part of the building to another can take time because of the layout of the old building. There’s also frustration having to spend time in traffic to visit one of the other FBI buildings around Washington, D.C.

“To protect this nation from the rapidly developing, evolving threats we face today, the FBI needs an environment in which its highly trained, skilled workforce can collaborate across divisions and programs to fashion solutions that mitigate today’s threats,” Haley said. “Our goal is to have built a consolidated, secure, resilient intelligence-community-worthy facility. However, even more than that, what we need is a facility capable of meeting the increased demands of the Nation’s premier intelligence and law enforcement organization for the future of the FBI.”