Trump administration cites 'risk for cost escalations' in decision to cancel FBI move

The Trump administration said Tuesday it is halting plans to move the FBI headquarters outside the District of Columbia because it lacks sufficient funding and fears cost overruns.

Officials in Maryland, who have lobbied the federal government to move the agency to Prince George’s County, cast doubt on the explanation, and pledged to continue pursuing the project.

The General Services Administration, the federal government’s landlord, said it is $882 million short of a $1.4 billion price tag for the project. But the state’s congressional delegation, including its lone Republican, questioned that accounting and the timing of the decision, in the midst of discussions over the next federal budget.

Congress took action to make clear we wanted this project to move forward,” Sen. Ben Cardin said. The Maryland Democrat was referring to the bipartisan budget deal reached in May that included $523 million for the relocation.

“The reasons given for cancellation just aren’t true,” he said.

Several of the state’s Democratic lawmakers said the decision leaves the law enforcement agency hamstrung in its ability to protect itself from and investigate cybercrimes. The J. Edgar Hoover Building, the FBI’s headquarters in downtown D.C., is aged and deteriorating. Employees are spread among nearly two dozen facilities.

FBI officials, asked for comment, referred reporters to the GSA.

“Moving forward without full funding puts the government at risk for cost escalations” and a reduction in the value of the Hoover building, which was set to be redeveloped, the agency said in a statement. “The cancellation of the project does not lessen the need for a new FBI headquarters. GSA and FBI will continue to work together to address the space requirements of the FBI.”

Maryland officials including Gov. Larry Hogan said the decision wastes years of work wooing the FBI to either Greenbelt or Landover, two of the three finalists for the headquarters.

But they vowed to keep pushing for the facility. The headquarters would bring 11,000 jobs to Maryland, seen as a vital economic spark for Prince George’s and the state.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen promised to press the GSA on its reasoning.

The Maryland Democrat said the decision “just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Van Hollen declined to speculate on whether it might be related to conflicts between the agency and President Donald Trump.

Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May. Comey was leading an investigation into possible links between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government.

“This decision just does not make sense,” Van Hollen said. “It doesn’t make sense for the American people. It doesn’t make sense for national security.”

The FBI began moving into the brutalist-style Hoover building on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1974, and has continued to grow and evolve as the structure has aged.

It now needs some $80 million in work on deferred maintenance and repairs, and the price to bring its infrastructure and technological capabilities up to date has been described as prohibitively expensive.

The Government Accountability Office said in 2011 that the building and its annexes around the Washington region “do not fully support the FBI's long-term security, space, and building condition requirements.”

Richard L. Haley II, the FBI’s assistant director for facilities and finance, told a House subcommittee last year the bureau’s space is “obsolete” and makes it difficult for investigators to keep up with modern security threats.

“A key challenge inhibiting our ability to address current and future threats is the lack of a headquarters facility that fully fosters collaboration, intelligence sharing, and is dynamic, enabling special agents, intelligence analysts, and other professional staff to combat evolving threats as they arise,” he said.

As the bureau has stressed those concerns, Maryland officials have made their case locating the headquarters in Prince George’s.

Virginia officials were trying to land the project in Springfield, the third finalist. They also expressed disappointment Tuesday.

President Barack Obama’s administration pegged the building’s cost at $1.4 billion when he included it in his 2017 budget, but Congress has secured only about half that sum.

The number doesn’t count money the developer would contribute in exchange for the ability to build on the FBI’s current headquarters site. That’s estimated at between $300 million and $500 million, Cardin said Tuesday.

Rep. Andy Harris, the state’s only Republican in Congress, said he has pushed as a member of the House Appropriations Committee for the government to fund the balance of the price tag, and said he would advocate for it to be “restarted as soon as possible.”

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who also serves on the appropriations committee, said he would work to ensure the money already allocated to the project isn’t diverted to other purposes.

The state and county have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure work around the project.

Hogan said that made the GSA’s decision all the more disappointing. He called it “typical” Washington dysfunction.

“I’m frustrated with our leaders in Congress and I’m frustrated with the administration’s position,” he told reporters.

The decision could have political ramifications ahead of Hogan’s 2018 re-election bid, said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. Some opponents were quickly using the GSA’s decision against him.

Kromer noted that former NAACP president Ben Jealous, running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, had already criticized Hogan over the issue. And Jim Shea, the former chairman of the law firm Venable LLP who is also running for governor, called the blow another item on a “list of broken promises” Hogan has made.

Rushern Baker III, the Democratic Prince George’s executive who is also running against Hogan, did not fault the governor. He said he had worked with Hogan on the failed proposal.

“This has been team Maryland,” Baker said. “This was the best interest of the state of Maryland.”

State Sen. Stephen Hershey, the chamber’s Republican whip, suggested Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, is to blame because Frosh said the state should not provide voting records requested by the Trump administration.

Frosh called the request “repugnant” and said the records were protected by law.

“Unlawful and politically motivated actions of Maryland AG @BrianFrosh ends MD's chance for new FBI HQ,” the Eastern Shore Republican tweeted.

Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser and Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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