Harris opposes restoring funding for stalled FBI headquaters project

Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who has supported bringing a new headquarters for the FBI to Maryland, voted against a measure late Thursday that would have restored $200 million in funding for the project.

The amendment, offered by Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, would have reversed an earlier decision by a House Appropriations subcommittee in June to strip $200 million in funding set aside for the headquarters building.

Ruppersberger, a Democrat, and Harris both serve on the committee.

The language to restore that funding, which Ruppersberger attempted to add to an appropriations bill, was killed by the House Appropriations Committee on a voice vote late Thursday night. Asked how he voted, Harris said through a spokeswoman on Friday that he “would have been supportive” if Ruppersberger had found a method to offset the spending.

After months of silence on the issue, the Trump administration abruptly halted the building of the FBI headquarters this week — citing, in part, the way the deal was structured by the General Services Administration. Trump officials were not alone in that criticism; some Democrats had also raised questions about the plan to offer development rights for the FBI’s current headquarters in downtown Washington to lower the cost of the new building.

Harris, the state’s only Republican in Congress, said this week that he had been supportive of funding for the project and said he would advocate for it to be “restarted as soon as possible.” Democrats and Republicans in the state, including GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, have supported the project and its 11,000 jobs.

Ruppersberger attached another provision to a much broader amendment that would require the General Services Administration to develop a new plan for the headquarters within 60 days of the bill’s passage. That language was approved and Harris said he supported it.

Though the project has been delayed, few believe it will stall permanently. The J. Edgar Hoover Building, the FBI’s current headquarters, is literally crumbling. Even if Congress spent the millions required to fix it, it wouldn’t solve a more fundamental problem: The agency has run out of space in the old headquarters and has been renting other offices around the region for years to house its agents and support staff.

Assuming the project gets back underway eventually, it will require hundreds of millions in federal funding — even under some of the more creative financing ideas that have been suggested. Lawmakers had been slowly putting money aside for years on a bipartisan basis until a House Appropriations subcommittee decided in June to draw down those savings.

The committee’s word is not final, and the funding may stand a better chance in the Senate. Congress is working to craft an appropriations package for the fiscal year that begins in October.

Virginia and Maryland have been competing for the project for years. The General Services Administration was preparing to choose a site for the development when it suddenly put the process on hold in March, citing a lack of funding.

Reps. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland and Anthony G. Brown of Prince George’s County — both Democrats — criticized the decision to yank the funding in a joint statement Friday.

“A new, fully consolidated FBI headquarters is critical to the safety and security of our nation,” the lawmakers wrote. “If the Trump administration or Republicans in Congress are serious about our national security, they will move forward with this project without delay.”

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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